By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Sharp County Sheriff Shane Russell wasted no time in making positive changes for the future of the Sharp County Sheriff’s Department. Former Sheriff Mark Counts hired Russell, as chief deputy following the resignation of Aaron Presser. Russell went to work for the sheriff’s department on Oct. 1. The extra two months have given Russell an opportunity to take part in planning the budget for his impending office, which he took on Jan. 1.Russell began planning immediately for the future success of his department, including selecting experienced administrators. He sought the advice on budgets from the former sheriff and others. By shuffling money that was already in the department’s budget, the new sheriff was able to fund much needed items for the department with no additional cost to the already strapped taxpayers of the county during these tough economic times.
New patrol vehicles
With the support of the Sharp County Quorum Court, and insight into the department he gained while working as Chief Deputy under Counts, Russell was able to obtain four new patrol vehicles. These new units were purchased without any additional cost to the county. While the department has not taken possession of the four new fully equipped and marked Dodge Durangos, the $200,000 for their purchase was a record amount allocated for vehicles for the sheriff’s department. They are expected to arrive in April and hit the road after being equipped and striped. Russell said during the November budget meeting the quorum court also approved funding for the sheriff’s department to hire an additional officer and investigator. “We are hoping to put an-other mid shift deputy on that will fall in between morning shift, day shift and evening shift. This will putmore deputies on theroad. We are also inthe process of restructuring schedules.”
“In 2022, we brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of $330,000 for housing state inmates,” the sheriff explained. The county General Checking Account had excess revenue from various sources and Treasurer Wanda Girt-man was able to transfer the funds to the sheriff’s department to account for the purchase and outfitting the vehicles. Through revenue raised by sheriff’s fees, jail commissary, tablet and cell phone funds that were in the Radio Communications Fund, the sheriff’s department was also able to purchase a new Chevrolet Tahoe. The fully equipped vehicle arrived in early January. While utilizing the funds which could be used for vehicle expenses, there was still ample excess money in the fund to account for upcoming or any unexpected expenses while also being a monthly revenue stream for the jail. “The reason we asked for so many vehicles is the way the economy has been. Whatever the situation may have been, the department’s vehicles had really gone downhill. We kind of got behind the eight ball. We have played catch up and were able to get these, ” Russell explained.
New Digital Radio Upgrade
One of the biggest challenges facing deputies is the inability to effectively communicate on their radios throughout the county. This is vital when responding to situations in which the officer or the public may bein imminent danger. This has been an on-going issue for many with the current analog system. The sheriff’s department as well as County Judge, Road Superintendents and OEM Coordinators radios will also be updated to the digital system. Digital is far superior to analog because it provides better voice clarity, greater capacity, stronger coverage without static… even in hard to reach areas, and has up to a 40 percent longer battery life. The sheriff’s department was able to utilize funds from the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP)instead of using 911maintenance funds. When completed, the county units will each have a mobile radio and all full time deputies will also have a handheld digital radio. Russell explained Sharp County cities will also be upgrading. “I have been in contact with all the cities and they are all on board too.” Russell explained they won’t switch until all city police departments are also ready for the upgrade, but will keep the public updated on the status.
3 new detectives= 65 years combined experience
Russell was able to bring to the helm of the sheriff’s department a trio of seasoned investigators. These three men collectively bring 65 years of various types of criminal investigative experience and extensive training to the department… the most in Sharp County Sheriff’s Department history.
Kevin “Bart” Simpson
Bart Simpson, who comes to the county as Chief Deputy, retired after serving 28 years with the Little Rock Police Department.18 years of his service were as a homicide detective. Simpson is also the President of the Arkansas Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)and has been extremely active in community events and always re-mains up to date and is instrumental in help-ing present legislation affecting law enforcement. “One of the things I think we can really do to make a difference and make a change here is training… getting people properly trained and work on getting equipment to help us do our job better. I am all about training, I have always been about training my entire career. I have always been one of those guys. Being an instructor myself, you can never have enough training, especially in this profession. ”Simpson said law enforcement is fluid… with the need to continually update officer training to match the changing environment in which police officers work daily. “When we first started this process, we knew we had to assemble a great team that complimented each other. I would put our team against anybody anywhere. We have a phenomenal, fantastic team. It has to be a team. I am so excited. ”Simpson, who just returned from an FOP event in Nashville, said while there, he was asked by a colleague why he came out of retirement to take this on. “It’s simple, I answer it the same way every time. I believe in it, I have known him [Russell] for many years, I believe in his vision. I wanted to be apart of it. I am excited about it. I get to make a difference in a place I call home. ”He added, “To make us have the best and most professional law enforcement officers and department around… that’s the goal. ”
Captain Josh Williams
Captain Josh Williams is a Jonesboro area native who moved back to the area from Grand Prairie, Kan. to accept the position as assistant chief and lead detective. He brings with him 10 years of training and experience in criminal investigations and extensive working knowledge of law enforcement processes. Williams first applied for employment with Russell when he was chief at Highland. The sheriff explained while he didn’t have a position at the time, he was so impressed with his resume that he kept it. After learning he would be sheriff, Russell made the call to offer Williams the lead detective position. This meant Williams would relocate his family to the Spring River area within a few months of being hired. Williams explained one of the biggest changes they have made and are making within the department is the organizational structure of the entire agency. The new organization will alleviate pressure on a single person. It is designed to distribute responsibilities amongst many throughout the agency. He said. “The structure allows the agency to somewhat manage itself if the sheriff or chief deputy is out of town. Everyone has their areas of number one expertise, number two training, number three knowledge and number four, being in their lane. If something happens in one area, one person can report to the sheriff or chief. ”From an administrative standpoint, Williams said the department is also instigating a weekly vehicle inspection schedule. “The taxpayers are funding our vehicles, I think we owe it to the community to take care of these vehicles,” he said. Each officer is required to submit a weekly inspection reporting any issues and also maintaining a maintenance log of their vehicles. Williams explained the department is currently revamping the schedule with 12 hour shifts. This will allow more officers to be on shift at one time and also allow them more time off. He said the officers have been very receptive and pleased with the changes. The sheriff’s department is constantly updating their Face-book page to keep the community aware of anything going on that affects them and assured that they will be transparent to the public, keeping them informed. They are also reworking their website, which should be completed in the upcoming weeks. They will utilize it and social media to post arrest re-cords, wanted or missing persons and any other news vital to the community. “We believe in deeds not words, we are moving forward by faith. We respect all, but fear none. We are going to see the mission done through and through. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail,” Williams said of the overall mission of the sheriff’s department and the service for which they took their oath to protect and serve the public. Williams went on to explain his reasons for relocating and accepting the position. ”Why did I move from Kansas here? I saw the mission. It is very hard to trust people, especially if you do this job for very long. I trusted the sheriff that he was going to set a mission and see it through. One of the biggest things is you are get-ting in on the ground floor on a completely new project and I said I want to be a part of it. I left a pretty good life to be a part of it. ”
Deputy Greg Stewart, accepted the third detective position. Stewart, who is a Sharp County native and 1994 Cave City High School graduate, began his career in law enforcement when he was just 21 years old as a reserve officer and jailer for the Independence County Sheriff’s Department in 1996.He then moved to Cabot, where he has worked since 2010 in patrol for the Jacksonville Police Department. While working for the department, Stewart became a state certified field training officer, was the departments’ accident reconstruction expert and also a K9handler. Stewart and his wife, Anna, moved back to the area in2020 where he began working for the Sharp County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy. The hiring of Stewart will allow the sheriff’s department to have more control over civil process and to ensure that the service of important legal papers doesn’t become delayed. Williams explained they also currently working hard to make sure registered sex offenders are in compliance and accountable. This allows the community to always be aware of the status of any of-fender who may live nearby. The sheriff explained that Stewart will serve civil process paper-work, be an investigator, and warrant officer as well as assisting April Moore with the sex offender registry and compliance. “He will wear many hats. Some weeks we have a lot of papers to serve and some weeks we don’t,” Russell explained. “In the future I am hoping this department can have more patrol out in the county and start really, really hitting these drugs. We are at the top of line in North Central Arkansas. We have a huge drug problem. ”All four men agree that the cohesiveness of being a team greatly aids in their work environment. The men also spoke highly of their jail administrator Edith Elliot, who has undergone extensive training since Jan.1 and the 911 coordinator, Alissa Clark, who they all agree are vitally important parts of the administrative team at the sheriff’s department, as are April Moore and Michelle Thurman, who are the department’s administrative assistants, with Moore also being in charge of the sex offender registry. Simpson added, “We all bring something unique and special to the table. When you put that all together, I think it’s unstoppable. With a never before realized experience level in the new Sheriff’s Department administration, the assembly of a group of very highly trained and dedicated individuals will allow Sharp County residents to have faith in law enforcement and the officers capabilities. Williams said, “The hour is coming and as an agency, we will act and make our community proud.”