Columns » Bob McCord

Stop cop meddling


In seven years, three Arkansas State Police directors have resigned because of too much interference by State Police commissioners, who are laymen appointed by the governor. The first one to resign was John Bailey, Tom Mars was next and a few days ago, Don Melton, a former police officer and U.S. marshal, called it quits. Something has to be done about this. The main problem, of course, is our antique Constitution that was adopted two years before General Custer's last stand and its 81 amendments. Arkansas has about 200 boards and commissions with something like 6,000 members. Of course, they are pals of the governor, and since most of the boards and commissions have few demands but much prestige, people like to be appointed to them. Some appointments are more popular than others, and the State Police Commission is one of them. Why? Well, you get a badge, a police radio for your car, and it used to be that you could also get a siren and a red light. The seven commissioners are selected in different parts of the state, and it's only natural that a State Police commissioner would be a standout in most Arkansas towns. If you got a speeding ticket and the commissioner is your buddy, you might just get it torn up. Ernie Dumas, who covered state government for 25 years for the Arkansas Gazette, tells a story about Gov. Dale Bumpers and a disappointed. State Police commissioner. The man had been appointed by another governor, and when his term was up, Bumpers indicated that he would not be reappointed. Fighting to keep his position, the commissioner sent Bumpers an expensive wristwatch, but Bumpers sent the watch back and appointed another person. Later Bumpers was told that he had better stay out of the ex-commissioner's town because he was so angry that he wanted to have him shot. With the blessing of the commissioners appointed by Gov. Orval Faubus, Herman Lindsey, the State Police director 1950s, became the governor's right-hand man during those hectic days of desegregation of the schools in Little Rock. State policemen were ordered to spy on businessmen who criticized Faubus in the hope of finding misbehavior that could be exposed to silence them. Pastors and members of the Pulaski Heights Christian Church were critical of Faubus' closing Central High School, and troopers spied on their personal lives. According to the law, the members of the State Police Commission must agree to all promotions or demotions, approve every person hired and hear appeals of anyone the director fires, suspends, demotes or disciplines. This law, according to Sen. Bobby Glover of Carlisle, quite properly turns the commission into a board of directors, but the boards of directors I know let their chief executive officers run the businesses, with everyone knowing that the board will fire him or her if they don't do a good job. Maybe the Apiary Board, the Professional Soil Classifiers Commission, or the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board might survive with their commissions or boards undercutting their executive officer, but that system is hardly suitable for the operation of the Arkansas State Police, an agency that spends $60 million a year and deals with matters of life and death. Right now the State Police is operating with 110 fewer troopers than they used to have because of the number called to military service in Iraq and the lack of money. For those reasons, the Criminal Investigation Division that assists rural police departments is having to turn down many requests for help. And meanwhile, the number of highway accidents that have to be worked by the troopers is steadily increasing; at the end of April, there were 336 more serious highway accidents than at the same time last year. When the legislature meets next year, it should change the law for the State Police Commission. The person who runs the State Police ought to be treated like a CEO by a commission that ought to act like a board of directors. ****** The Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission has decided to spend $1.16 million for new landscaping, exterior lighting and a 130-foot outdoor fountain. Also, it is going to buy a 16-foot sculpture called "Encircling the Future - Interdependence" for $50,000 and put it in front of the terminal. It's nice that the commission is sprucing up the airport, but I think a greater need is more flight information display boards or a public address system on the second level so that people who come out to meet people will know when they arrive in order to identify them as they walk up the passageway. Like most picker-uppers, I stand at the top of the escalator - there are no chairs -- and hope the plane is on time and that I will soon spot my friends when they exit the long passageway. But it's tiresome and uncertain. Twice I've missed arrivals because there's no electric board at that point (there is one in a small waiting area removed from where passengers emerge) or an announcer to tell you (1) if the flight is late and (2) when it has arrived. The volunteer worker on the second level of the airport will try to help you, but she can be busy handing out pamphlets about Little Rock and telling people where the bathrooms are. So you wait, stand and stare, or you go down to the first floor and wait in line to ask the airline ticket agent if the plane has landed or when it will. Of course, that's when I missed my friends who arrived and went completely out of my sight to pick up their luggage. Maybe the commissioners want us to tell anyone flying to Little Rock that we will meet them at the fountain.

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