Leader Blues

Friday, March 28, 2008

TOP STORY > > Baker is saluted by JPD

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

After serving as the Jacksonville police chief for the past three years, and working on the force for more than 30 years, Chief Robert Baker has retired.

The reins of the department have been temporarily passed to Capt. Kenny Boyd, a 20-year veteran.

As Baker was enjoying his retirement party Friday afternoon and sharing stories and shedding a few tears with friends and fellow officers, city officials were working to find a permanent replacement.

From an initial pool of 17 applicants, a committee, which includes Mayor Tommy Swaim, Jill Fourqurean, the city’s human resource director, and Jay Whisker, the city administrator, has narrowed the search down to three.

The three include one applicant from the Jacksonville Police Department andtwo from within the state. Two of the three are currently police officers and the third recently retired.

Fourqurean said that the committee has interviewed the three finalists, and that the final decision will be up to the mayor. “I hope to make a decision in the next week or so,” said the mayor, who added that Boyd, who did not apply for the chief’s position, would do a fine job in the interim.

Fourqurean said, “We are hoping not to have much of a gap between the chief’s departure and the new person starting. But our emphasis is on getting the right person.”

Baker was appointed chief in Feb. 2004. It was his second try for the job. He had applied two years earlier, but the city decided to go outside of the department and hire a retired Air Force officer, Wayne Ruthven. Ruthven was chief less than two years before deciding to move on.

As chief, Baker headed a department with a $6 million budget and 88 full-time employees, including 69 sworn police officers.

Baker plans to stay in the area and devote more time to his family and his two hobbies—astronomy and genealogy. “As much as I love those two, I don’t expect to stay out of work long,” Baker said.

The chief joined the city’s force back in 1977 and before he was an official officer, he spent six month as an auxiliary officer.

So how did a young man from Litchfield, Minn. end up on the Jacksonville police force? “Uncle Sam,” Baker said. “I served four years in the Air Force and Little Rock Air Force Base was my last stop, and I just stayed.”

Baker said he believes he is leaving a well-run department that is more professional than it once was. “Our officers are working diligently every day to solve, stop and prevent crime,” he said.