Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

TOP STORY >>Beebe names new police chief

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The Beebe City Council hired a new police chief Monday night to complete the transformation of the department which has been underway since the beginning of the summer.

Assistant Chief Wayne Ballew, who has been acting chief since Don Inns was fired earlier this month, is now the official head of a department of mostly seasoned police officers with an average age of more than 40.

The young, inexperienced officers are gone. One police officer and one dispatcher were fired for viewing pornography on a police computer. Another was fired for using inappropriate language on a Web site where he was identified as a Beebe police officer.

Counting Ballew and Hal Britt, who was police chief more than a decade ago and now works as an investigator, six of eight police officers have been hired since the first of the year.

Earlier this month, the council hired Ron Lewis, a part-time Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy and a former state trooper who once headed the Lonoke County Drug Task Force. Monday night, the council gave approval to hire James Armstrong, a former White County sheriff’s deputy, to replace an officer who resigned voluntarily for work elsewhere.

Mayor Mike Robertson said during an interview Tuesday morning that he has known Lewis since 1996 (during Robertson’s first term as mayor) when he helped Britt with the investigation into Big Boy’s Toys, an illegal drug operation masquerading as an antique car dealership.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron isn’t named assistant chief,” Robertson said. “We’re going to clean up the drug activity (in Beebe). These people who have been getting by with it aren’t going to get by with it anymore.”

Alderman Becky Short, a former city clerk and lifetime resident, said after the meeting that she was “tickled pink” with the changes that have been made. The city now has a police force that will patrol the streets and treat the residents with respect, she said.

Robertson fired Inns Aug. 5, after learning he had fixed an arrest warrant so that a parolee wanted on drug charges would not be picked up.

Robertson said at that time and again Monday night that too many drug busts ended with no one going to jail. He said Inns told him he intended to use the lawbreakers as informants. But those days are over, Robertson said.

He told the council that in the past two weeks, “doors have been kicked down and arrests have been made. There will be no deals with drug dealers.”

Robertson reported to the council Monday that a state police investigation into the police department is underway. He did not say that Inns is the subject of that investigation, but he did say that Inns was the only department employee with access to the evidence room where confiscated guns and drugs were not properly labeled.

Robertson also said that when Inns was police chief, he was the only employee with access to the department’s “drug buy” money.

Since he was fired, the money ($400) has been turned over to the city clerk.