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As 2008 draws to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to give an update on some recent events and some areas we will continue to focus on in the coming year. Hopefully 2009 will not bring with it the same kind of tragic occurrences we endured in early 2008, which were of course the Gassville tornado and the Norfork flooding. We are, once again, finally fully staffed in all divisions after having lost additional employees to the Mountain Home Police Department for much better pay and benefits than we are allowed to offer. This is a recurring problem and one that absolutely must be rectified at some point in the not too distant future. It seems as though every time another local agency has an opening, they are quick to make an offer to one of our employees who we have hired, trained, and certified at county expense. The Sheriff's Office is simply not competitive salary and benefit wise with other local law enforcement agencies. It is becoming increasingly more and more difficult for us to recruit, train, and keep qualified officers. Although the Quorum Court looked at the salary situation about a year and a half ago, and some adjustments were made, it did not go nearly far enough to maintain a competitive stance to attract and recruit qualified personnel, particularly for certified positions. New employees include Charles Bost, who was hired for an entry level patrol deputy position. Deputy Bost has 11 years of previous experience in law enforcement for the Salem Police Department before he resigned a few years ago to work oversees. He has now returned to law enforcement, and we hope he will remain with us for a long time to come. Sonya Olney has returned to the department as a full time Jailer/Matron. She had previously worked full time for the department in the same position, then had asked to be reduced to part time status only. She has now returned to a full time position, and she is doing an excellent job for us in the Detention Center. Kristofer Savino recently moved from part time to a full time position as a Jailer in the Detention Center. He is also a Reserve Deputy, and he as well is doing an outstanding job in the Detention Center. Once the new employees were in place and we became fully staffed again, the Sheriff announced two promotions, as follows: Henry Campfield promoted to Corporal in Patrol Division James Tilley promoted to Corporal in Patrol Division The Sheriff's Office annual Christmas Party and Awards Banquet was held on December 13th at the Lake Norfork Inn. This is one of the few times per year that all Sheriff's Office employees, Reserve Deputies, and their spouses can all get together for a fun evening. Many door prizes were awarded by random drawing, and the following awards were presented: Deputy/Investigator of the Year - Sgt. David Estes Jailer of the Year - David Alkire Part Time II Deputy of the Year - Benny Magness Reserve Deputy of the Year - Gary Arwood 2008 Blooper of the Year - Mychal Warno Reserve Deputies Robert Henderson, James Boatright, David Boatright, and Vernon Koenen were also recognized for the impressive number of hours each has volunteered to the Sheriff's Office during 2008. It was also announced that our Reserve Commander, Deputy Ron Bata, would be retiring from the Sheriff's Office after serving many years as a Reserve Deputy, including the past four years as Reserve Commander. We thank Ron for his many years of service and wish him the best in the years to come. At the County Employees Christmas Dinner on December 5th, the following Sheriff's Office personnel were presented awards in recognition of years of service. Office Manager Beverly Schmidt 15 years Sergeant Andy Bower 10 years Corporal Mike Holland 10 years Deputy Billy Cox 5 years We appreciate their hard work and dedication. It has been very busy around the office the past few weeks as we work diligently toward closing out the books for 2008. There are many checklists of things we must do to satisfy audit requirements and internal records management requirements. Also, the yearly Arkansas State Income Tax Set-Off Program takes place primarily in late December each year, and the ladies in the office have been working extra hard to make sure those tax claims are filed on time and in the appropriate manner. Firearms qualifications for all deputies took place in November, and the yearly Racial Profiling-Bias Based Policing training took place December 10th to 12th. The State mandates that each certified deputy attend two (2) hours of this training each year to maintain certification status, and they do audit our record to make sure we are in compliance. Together with MHPD Sgt. Sam Seamans, I just attended a luncheon with the area coordinator of Special Olympics of Arkansas to discuss initial plans for the "Polar Bear Plunge", which this year will be held on February 28th at the Henderson Park on Lake Norfork. This is one of the fund raising events for Special Olympics that law enforcement in Baxter County is involved in each year, the other being the Torch Run that takes place in May. In January, 2009, deputies will be re-certified on Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC) terminal operations. This is required every two years. Also on January 4th, Corporal Eddie Elliot will begin the basic academy training course at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in East Camden, which will last twelve (12) weeks. In January or early February, we will begin updating our five year plan for the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Montgomery first created the plan two years ago, based upon much input from the management staff. We adjust it each year to reflect current priorities and operational and budgetary realities. We should also take delivery in January of three vehicles for the patrol division that will replace those currently in use that have the highest mileage. Although no date has yet been set, we anticipate holding another Reserve Deputy training course in the Spring or Summer to fill Reserve Deputy positions that have become vacant throughout the year due to resignations, inactive status, and the like. We are currently accepting applications for those positions. Detailed information on those positions can be found under the "Employment" tab on the web site. During 2009, we will continue to focus on several areas that have become and will remain high priorities. These include: Aggressive efforts to collect fines, costs, and victim restitution on all cases. Prompt and thorough community notification of registered sex offenders. Active investigation of drug activity and prompt arrests and seizures of drugs. Providing ongoing training in many areas to Deputies and Jailers. Upgrading and improving equipment for the use of Sheriff's personnel. Maintaining and upgrading the capabilities of the Aviation Unit. Maintaining and upgrading the Detention Center. Maintain regular patrols on all county roads/responding to extra patrol requests. Share information and work closely with other law enforcement agencies. One issue that will have to be decided early in the new year is that of the School Resource Officer position at the Cotter High School. As was reported weeks ago in the local press, the City of Cotter will discontinue providing a SRO to the Cotter Schools as of December 31st due to budgetary restraints. The Sheriff's Office was approached by the Cotter Police Chief and Cotter School Administration about the possibility of providing a deputy to fill that SRO position. The matter was brought before the Budget Committee of the Quorum Court earlier this year for discussion, but no resolution has been reached. In the interim, Sheriff's Lt. Ralph Bird, who previously served as an SRO/DARE officer at the Pinkston Middle School in Mountain Home, will step in to temporarily assume the Cotter SRO position through the end of this school term. Hopefully a permanent solution will be found by then so that Cotter will still have an SRO at the beginning of the next school year. This is a very important program, and we believe it is essential that a solution be found that will keep an SRO in the school. The swearing-in ceremony for all Sheriff's Office personnel will take place on Friday, January 2nd at 9:00 AM at the District Court Complex. District Judge Gearhart will administer the oath of office to each employee and each Reserve Deputy, and the oaths will be filed with County Clerk Rhonda Porter. Since the term of employment of each Sheriff's Office employee ends at midnight on December 31st of even numbered years following the general election, each deputy and employee must be re-sworn and re-appointed to their job positions by the newly elected or re-elected Sheriff. We look forward to the challenges and rewards that await each of us in the year ahead. It is an honor to continue serving the citizens of Baxter County and to be working for Sheriff Montgomery and with the outstanding group of employees that we have. Best regards to everyone in 2009. Capt. Jeff Lewis, Chief Deputy

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