There’s been a lot happening during the past month since the last newsletter was published. I wanted to take a few minutes to try and update our subscribers on some various happenings, events, and issues that have taken place or are being discussed.
ARKANSAS STATE INCOME TAX SET-OFF PROGRAM:
Again this year, the Sheriff’s Office filed claims against offender’s Arkansas State Income Tax Refunds if they were at least one (1) year delinquent on court ordered fines, court costs, and/or restitution to victims. As of today (03-13-08), we have received approximately $62,000 total in both voluntary payments and set-off payments from the State. The portions collected for fines and court costs will be remitted ultimately to the County Treasurer, while the portions collected for restitution will be sent directly to the victims. The program will continue during the next few months as remaining tax filers submit their 2007 tax returns to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
If you who have traveled through Gassville during the past weeks, you know that clean-up and repairs from the devastating tornado in February are well underway, although a lot remains to be done. Most of the demolished structures have been removed and the lots cleared. The vast majority of this was done by volunteers donating their own time and equipment. It has been an enormous undertaking, and the entire community owes all the volunteers a huge debt of gratitude. We can’t thank them enough!! Only time will tell how many of the homes and businesses will be re-built. Progress is being made each day. I drove through Clinton a few weeks ago and saw wide-spread damage in that city as well. Hopefully we won’t see this kind of destruction for many, many more years to come.
RESERVE DEPUTY CLASS:
Our new Reserve Deputy class kicked off on March 3rd. We had planned on holding classes at the Emergency Services Training Center in Midway, but that facility is still occupied by FEMA officials. In its place, we have been using the multi-purpose room at the Detention Center and the conference room at the Sheriff’s Administration Office, although both of those rooms are small and cramped. We have a total of 19 students in class, 4 of which are from the Stone County Sheriff’s Office, 2 from the Arkansas Department of Corrections, and 1 from the Mountain Home Police Department. The remainder are with Baxter County. The class is scheduled for 123 training hours. Classes are generally held Monday thru Thursday from 6PM to 10PM, and graduation is set for evening of April 21st. We are excited to have another group of certified Reserve Deputies joining us soon. As a side note to this, current Reserve Deputy Barry Smith has resigned because he is moving out of state. Barry volunteered a tremendous amount of his time to the Sheriff’s Office, and we will certainly miss him around here. He was an extremely valuable asset to the department.
We recently lost yet another of our patrol deputies to the Mountain Home Police Department due to the better pay and benefits that agency is able to provide its officers. With a starting wage that is greater than the Sheriff’s Office, as well as step raises every 6 months for 30 months, and three (3) times the number of vacation days awarded after the first year, it’s very difficult for the Sheriff’s Office to compete for and keep trained and qualified personnel. Therefore, that leaves us presently with one vacancy in the patrol division. We have advertised for applications, which are accepted through Friday, March 14th, and will begin the interview and hiring process after that date.
In addition, we have one vacancy in the Detention Center for the position of Jailer, with the possibility of a second vacancy in the very near future, as one of the current Jailers will most likely be leaving to work for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. We will also interview for this position(s) in the near future.
ELECTION OF CONSTABLES:
I was quite surprised to learn from the local news outlets that many candidates had filed for election to the office of Constable by Quorum Court District (such as District 2) again this term. As you may or may not remember, there was considerable controversy over the Constable issue following the 2006 General Election after which one of the newly elected Constables decided to be “active” and actually exercise the duties of that office. His decision was very unusual for a Constable in Baxter County, as practically no Constables elected here in the past 20 or 25 years had actually exercised their authority granted to them by law, even though in other counties in Arkansas it is quite common for them to do so. This prompted the Baxter County Court to issue Court Order No. CO-2007-1, wherein the court found that Constables were not elected properly by Quorum Court District, rather they should be elected by “Township” as specified by Arkansas law. The Court ordered each elected Constable in Baxter County to exercise his authority only within the “Township” in which he resides, and not in the entire Quorum Court District in which his “Township” was geographically situated.
There may be several “Townships” situated in each Quorum Court District. Each individual Township could theoretically elect a Constable, so there could potentially be more than one elected Constable in each of the eleven Quorum Court Districts. There was speculation that the County Court would use its discretionary authority to modify or alter Township boundaries to eliminate this confusion, but apparently no action was taken and the status quo remains. Personally, I believe some corrective action should have been taken to eliminate this confusion. With regards to our one “active” Constable in District 2, Mr. Gary Arwood, I want say that I have nothing but respect and appreciation for this gentleman. He has taken every step on his own initiative to receive the training he needed to perform the duties of his elected office. He wears an appropriate Constable uniform, has the appropriate Constable markings on his personal vehicle, and performs his duties in a respectable manner…..all at his own expense. Rather than causing uncertainty and potential conflicts with the Sheriff’s Office as some had feared, Constable Arwood provides a very valuable service to the citizens of District 2, and the Sheriff’s Office works jointly with him and supports him completely. There is no conflict of any kind.
The Sheriff has renewed arrangements with the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers to provide deputies for park patrol duties once again this year on Corp property on both Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes. This duty normally runs from April through September of each year. The Corp reimburses the county for deputies’ wages and vehicle expenses when conducting park patrol on their days off. There are usually two (2) deputies scheduled daily for each shift on Norfork Lake and at least one (1) deputy scheduled for Bull Shoals Lake in the Lakeview area. Deputies on park patrol duties work jointly with Corp Park Rangers to provide a visible presence to promote safety, deter crime, and enforce criminal laws and Corp regulations on Corp property.
WEB SITE ACTIVITIES:
Over 110 people posted on the “Most Wanted” page of the Sheriff’s web site have now been arrested on outstanding felony and misdemeanor warrants, largely due to tips received from the public as to the location and whereabouts of those persons. This number is much better than originally anticipated. The Sheriff posts not only new warrants just received from the courts, but also older warrants that we have had little or no success serving by traditional methods. We have also been much more liberal in our out of state extradition limits on many of the felony warrants we receive, primarily due to the fact that restitution is owed to crime victims from many of those people named in the warrants in these cases. We want to make every reasonable effort to collect court ordered restitution for crime victims, even though this might cost the Sheriff’s Office more than usual in travel and extradition expenses when returning out of state fugitives to Baxter County. We believe this effort is owed to the people who were victimized by these fugitives.
Within the next two or three weeks, we will be implementing a brand new feature on the web site. This feature will allow any interested party to find out who is currently incarcerated in the Detention Center, see their photograph, and details of the crimes they are charged with. All of that information is already public record and can be asked for by any citizen. The information should update every 15 minutes or so, which will allow the data to remain current.
Thanks in part to the receipt of donated funds and donated materials, we have been able to undertake renovations and updates to the inside of the Criminal Investigation Division building, including rearranging office spaces for greater efficiency and updating the break room and other fixtures. Renovations are also taking place in the Control Tower area of the Detention Center to accommodate additional fixtures. We should have these alterations completed within the next couple of weeks.
Well, that about sums up the content for this edition. I hope everyone is well and ready for some warm Spring weather. The Sheriff and I want to thank you for your continued support of this department.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
13 March 08
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