Sunday, January 1, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XCIV): Training law enforcement officers

A few stories in the Newton County Times in recent months have highlighted the issue of financing, hiring and training local law enforcement officers. In prior issues, I have discussed law enforcement staffing in the county, including a plea last year by Jasper residents to have 24-hour patrols--that following a spate of burglaries. Read more here.

Now, the October 5, 2011 issue of the paper reports that the Western Grove City Council is discussing the municipality's need for law enforcement. Western Grove is Newton County's largest city, with a population of 518 (sign above shows the 2000 count), though Jasper is the county seat (2009 population down to 357). The story indicated that the city was considering contracting with the Newton County Sheriff's office to station a deputy in Western Grove. This could be a win-win for both city and county since the Sheriff's office has recently reduced its staff due to budget cuts. The Sheriff said he was working one day recently as a bailiff in the Newton County Circuit Court, the implication being that he has no staff to perform this function. The same story provides the September, 2011 Activity Report for the Sheriff's office, which shows 29 arrests, with 29 inmates housed in out-of-county detention facilities for 234 total inmate days at a total cost of $8,155. The Sheriff's office patrolled 14,299 miles, used 841.09 gallons of fuel, issued 86 citations, served 31 warrants and tuned over $1,087.83 to the Circuit Court. The office reported 40 felony and 24 misdemeanor cases for the month.

A front-page story from the November 30 issue of the Newton County Times reports that Jasper Police officer James R. Wright was one of 42 officers from around the state who completed Basic Police Training Course 2011-B at the Black River Technical College Law Enforcement Training Academy in Pocahontas. The 13-week course includes instruction in "standard police tactics, firearms, legal, educational, technical skills and practical exercises." The story does not indicate whether Wright paid for his own training or whether the City of Jasper financed his attendance at the course.

A December 14, 2011 story features the headline, "District trying to lock up criminal justice grant." It reports on the Jasper School District's application for a $40,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Career Education to provide a course in criminal justice for Jasper District students, grades 9-12. A representative of the Dept. of Career Education had recently visited the Jasper campus to inspect its "distance learning classroom" because the program would transmitted simultaneously "between the Jasper, Oark and Kingston campuses." The program would be taught three days a week at Jasper and one day each at Kingston and Oark. Once in each nine-week period, students would meet in one location "for physical training such as learning proper handcuffing techniques." The grant would provide the school district with finger print kids and other basic equipment. The district would have to hire a certified law enforcement officer to teach the course. The Jasper Police Department and the Newton County Sheriff's office have written letters in support of the program, according to the news story.

The story also noted the significance of such career courses for students not interested in a traditional curriculum tracked toward college. The District's assistant superintendent suggested that securing this program is an urgent matter because, without it, some students feel they have no reason to stay in school. The visiting administrator from the state office of Career Development noted that the program encourages students "to provide services to the community, like directing traffic at ball games and parades and other tasks that give them some limited authoritative responsibilities."

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