Leader Blues

Saturday, March 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >JPD chief decides it’s time to retire

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

After more than 30 years with the Jacksonville Police Department, and the last four as chief, Robert Baker is retiring. His last day will be March 28.

“I just felt it was time,” he said.

So far more than a dozen individuals have applied for Baker’s job. “We hope to start interviewing next week,” said Jill Fourqurean, the city’s human resources director. “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 ap-pointed 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 heads a department with a $6 million budget and 88 fulltime employees, including 69 sworn 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 months 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. Our CID (criminal investigative division) is doing a superb job,” the chief said.

What’s been the most important advancement since he’s been chief? “I like to think it’s the hiring of quality people,” Baker said, “and the promoting of deserving people.”

The chief, who is divorced and has one son, looks forward to tracing his heritage. So far he’s found out that he’s not related to anyone famous yet, and luckily no one infamous. “I come from down-home, good-hearted farmers,” he said.

Baker, who is also an amateur astronomer, is active with the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and would like to do more in that arena, too.

Who the new chief will be is a decision for the mayor, Baker explained, “but I’ve offered to help in any way I can.”