Can you hear me now?
Officers of the North Little Rock Police Department are grumbling about a request by Chief Danny Bradley for copies of their personal cell phone records. The request grew out of Bradley's concern that some officers are spending too much time talking on the phone while on duty, and that some were driving while talking on the cell phone, which is against departmental regulations. Officers are allowed to redact records of calls made while not on duty. Everything else must be handed over.
Chief Bradley said a policy has been in effect since 2004 warning officers that their personal cell phones and cell phone records are subject to inspection. This is the first time the NLRPD has made a blanket request for records. Bradley said he has sent out several memos to remind officers not to spend too much time chatting while on duty, but they have largely gone unheeded.
In recent years, Bradley said, police administrators nationwide have become increasingly concerned about the use of cell phones as a way for on-duty officers to communicate that is not subject to administrative review. While not suggesting anything nefarious is going on in North Little Rock, Bradley said that cell phones have figured into several high-profile police corruption cases elsewhere in recent years.
Bradley has told department administrators to flag any record in which an officer spends more than 15 minutes per shift talking on the phone on personal business, or one hour on the phone in total per shift. He said he wouldn't speak hypothetically about what punishment might be meted out to those who have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone.
A call to the North Little Rock chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police went unreturned at press time.
Friday, Jan. 23, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission will consider changing a regulation that currently allows surface discharge of sewage and other wastewater in the Lake Maumelle Watershed.
Martin Maner, the director of watershed management for Central Arkansas Water (CAW), says it's a no-brainer.
“You don't want sewage discharging into a creek that feeds a lake that serves as a major water supply,” Maner said.
Maybe there's a lack of brains at PC&E. CAW asked for the change last February. But the commission deferred to county governments — Pulaski, Perry and Saline. None enacted regulations of its own, so the matter finally is coming back to the commission.
Maner says he has an idea why the commission deferred to the county governments as opposed to simply changing the state regulation.
“I think some of the commissioners got lobbied pretty hard by some land owners in the area and they felt like it needed to start on a local level and go up,” Maner said. “But the state already has the resources in place in terms of inspectors, enforcement and all the legal action that needs to be done whereas the counties don't have any of that. That's just one reason, but there are all kinds of reasons why it should be under ADEQ and not the county, but that's what they chose to do.”
Some landowners didn't have to go far to lobby PC&E. PC&E commissioner Thomas Schueck is an investor, along with Jay DeHaven, in a large sod farm land in the Maumelle watershed. The development of that land would be a departure from the management plan backed by CAW. Schueck could not be reached for comment.
Speaking of rulemakers with a financial interest in the rules they make:
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has expressed the need for legislation to better regulate the booming natural gas industry. At least one legislator responsible for making such decisions is part of that very same industry.
Rep. Lance Reynolds, D-Quitman, received a permit from ADEQ to operate a land farm, a disposal facility for drilling fluids produced by gas wells, in August. Reynolds is co-chair of the Joint Energy Committee. He also serves on the Public Health, Welfare and Labor as well as the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development. All the committees could have a say on environmental and gas exploration issues.
ADEQ executive director Teresa Marks has said she would like to see legislation requiring the owners of land farms to post financial assurance to cover the costs of environmental clean-up.
There are currently 13 land farms in the state. All that have been inspected by ADEQ have violated state environmental regulations. Recently, Marks called for a moratorium, prohibiting these sites from accepting any more drilling fluid until a comprehensive review of their environmental impact is completed.
Reynolds says he sees no problem.
“If there was a conflict I just wouldn't vote,” he said. “I plan to abide by the laws of the state and ADEQ and I hope that most people would think that I would need to be way above the law because of the position that I'm in. Obviously I understand it's a touchy situation, but by the same token, as long as everything's disclosed I don't see a problem or a conflict.” He said he was open to inspections at his facility.
Last November, Jerry Fryar of Ozark was flying a Bell OH-58 helicopter when it lost power and he had to make a crash landing. A state Game and Fish wildlife officer in the helicopter was struck by a rotor and died.
Last weekend, Fryar, 30, who flew in Iraq in 2007 with Arkansas's Aviation Brigade, had to land a hospital helicopter after geese crashed into the chopper, knocking a hole in the passenger side window and tearing off the nose paneling. The contract pilot was returning to Little Rock from Memphis, where he'd transported a patient for Baptist Health, when the bird strike occurred. He made landing in Widener. He and two passengers were treated and released from a Forrest City Medical Center, according to a report in the Forrest City Times-Herald.
A number of long-time humane organization activists are unhappy with a compromise felony animal cruelty bill, subject of this week's cover story. They believe animal activists gave up too much and the Farm Bureau gave up too little. The Farm Bureau conceded only one point in the long-running debate, they say — a first-offense felony charge for animal cruelty. But humane groups had to agree to a law that explicitly allows a property owner to kill an animal that appears to be causing damage; that allows killing an animal that appears to be ill or abandoned, and, finally, strips humane societies of existing law enforcement powers. The critics, who've agreed not to stand up publicly on account of the compromise, complain that law officers, particularly in rural areas, are reluctant to enforce animal cruelty laws. They fear that this reluctance, along with an economic downturn that makes it increasingly hard for some owners to properly feed horses and other animals, could spell bad news for animals.