Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Fighting drugs is priority for chief

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Illegal drugs like meth, cocaine and marijuana are a problem in Beebe like they are everywhere else. And in recent weeks, the police have kicked in the door of a dealer in part as a show of strength. But according to Wayne Ballew, who has officially been chief since Monday night, the average resident will see a different side of the city’s mostly new police force.

He says residents will see them patrolling the streets regularly and if they happen to be outside raking leaves for example, one might pull into the driveway and talk for a while.

“What I hope here in Beebe is that people will get to know who their police officers are,” Ballew said. “We want to do a lot of community policing.”

And already residents are beginning to notice the change, he said.

“I got a call from an older man who told me two different police officers had waved at him,” the chief said. “He told me nothing like that had ever happened before.”

Ballew replaced Don Inns, who was fired early in August, apparently several months after he had already fallen out of favor with his boss, Mayor Mike Robertson.

Since the firing, Robertson has been very outspoken about his discontent with Inns, who he says was soft on drug users and dealers, turning most of them into informants instead of working to see that they were incarcerated for their crimes.

Both Robertson and Ballew say those days are over.

“What I want people to know is that it won’t be tolerated here. If you’re selling drugs in Beebe or delivering drugs in Beebe, you need to be watching your back,” Ballew said, adding apologetically, “I hope that didn’t sound arrogant.”

Ballew, 52, is a big man, more than six feet tall and carrying a few extra pounds, which makes him almost indistinguishable at a glance from several of the officers who now staff his department.

The mayor joked during the Monday night council meeting that it would be easy to find a Santa Claus this year for the lighting of Daniel Park at Christmas.

“That’s O.K,” Ballew said of the good-natured dig. “That’s what happens when you get older.”

Like Ballew, most of the police officers in Beebe are new to the department but not to law enforcement. Their combined backgrounds include work for the state, counties and cities in traffic, drug enforcement and administration.

Ballew, originally from Little Rock, went to work as a cadet with the Little Rock Police Department when he was 18 years old. By the time he was 21 he was a deputy with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department and then he moved on to the state police where he stayed for 17 years.

He said he moved to Beebe from Bryant after he retired from the state police to take care of his wife’s parents.
After they died, he considered moving back, but his son, who was then in the third grade, didn’t want to go.

“Logan said I like it here,” Ballew said. “He said I like the school here and I like the baseball here.”

And so he and his family have stayed for six years.

Ballew was working in security for ASU-Beebe and helping out part time at the Beebe Police Department when he was named assistant police chief about three months ago.

When he became chief, a vacancy was created that the mayor says could be filled by Ron Lewis, who several years ago was head of the Lonoke County Drug Task Force. Lewis left his job with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department about two weeks ago to work for the Beebe Police Department.

Ballew says that most of his police officers are new to their jobs in Beebe and may not know their way around too well yet.
They know the work and they are talking together about the job ahead of them.

“Police officers are notorious about talking to each other,” he said. “They love to share information because they have a common goal.”

Right now, the goal is to get to know the law-abiding residents of Beebe and to make life hard on drug dealers. Ballew said he knows they will not be able to put them all out of business, but he is putting them on notice that they intend to try.