By Tammy Moore Teague
The three candidates for Sebastian County Sheriff agreed to participate in a question and answer session with Resident Press. Early voting has already begun. Voters will cast their ballot in the Primary Election on May 22. Here are the responses from each of the candidates as listed in alphabetical order by last name:
1. Why did you decide to run for Sebastian County’s Sheriff?
Jarrard Copeland: I am running for sheriff for several reasons; first because when I retired from the Fort Smith Police Department last May I immediately started receiving phone calls from several citizens in Sebastian County urging me to run for sheriff against Sheriff Hollenbeck. Then, in December, I received a call from Sheriff Hollenbeck letting me know that he was retiring and that he thought I would make a good sheriff. Second, I have two young daughters who will enter the Greenwood school system soon and I am very concerned about their safety, as is any parent. I could sit back and try to enjoy the retirement life and just hope that our local law enforcement agencies keep them protected, and we do have some excellent law enforcement agencies, but my other option was to try to become the sheriff of Sebastian County and have more of a say in how we can better protect our children. Third, I sincerely enjoyed serving the citizens of Fort Smith for over 25 years. As law enforcement officers, we are in a unique position to do some great things to help others and this has been one of the most rewarding things I have experienced in my lifetime. I am a firm believer is servant leadership and if I am elected sheriff, I will have an agency filled with deputies who will adopt the concept of community policing with the best possible customer service and it is my firm belief that the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office will be the envy of every other county in Arkansas. I am anxious to be a part of that!
Randy McFadden: This campaign is a calling from the Lord. I was approached to run for Sheriff at which point I along with other church members prayed for discernment. I received confirmation from the Lord and then announced my intentions in September, 2017.
Hobe Runion: I decided to run for Sheriff to be able to continue to pursue the valuable initiatives that I have been involved with that will have a positive impact on our community. My entire adult life has been about service to our community and service to our nation. I want to be able to continue to serve our county. These include the Sebastian County OpioidTask Force and the other non profits and boards that I serve on. When anyone decides to run for local elected office it is because they think they offer more to the community and want the ability to implement their vision for a better life for its residents.
2. What makes you the best choice?
Jarrard Copeland: I feel that my experience with the Fort Smith Police Department makes me the most qualified candidate to lead the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office as a law enforcement agency. I have personally investigated many different types of criminal investigations ranging from burglary to assault to rape to missing children to homicide. I have also supervised others in their investigations of these same type of investigations and I have worked many years in administration. As the head of the Office of Professional Standards, I supervised the Internal Affairs office and I know first hand the importance of holding myself accountable as well as those under my command. The citizens of Sebastian County deserve the best possible service and I intend to make sure they get it. I can also bring fresh, new ideas to an agency that has not had a sheriff from outside the agency in at least 50 years. Anytime a sheriff leaves an agency, it opens the door for new leadership and new ideas. Sometimes it is good to bring someone in from outside the agency to make the necessary changes to take the agency to the next level, rather than continuing the same culture, policies and practices that have been handed down for decades.
Randy McFadden: I am a second generation law enforcement officer. I have 20 years law enforcement and 28 years corporate business and corporate security experience. I have 24 years of management experience which gives me both law enforcement and business experience. I also have a B.S. degree in Organizational Management from John Brown University. Therefore, I feel I have the law enforcement experience required but also the experience in corporate and business management needed to run the Sheriff’s office. I will use these skills to help serve all personnel and citizens. My skills in corporate business sets me apart from the other two candidates as this office requires more than law enforcement experience .
Hobe Runion: I am the best choice because I am the only candidate with verifiable Sheriffs Department experience. I have been there for the last 18 years and the last 4 as the Chief Deputy. The Sheriffs Department is unique in Arkansas law enforcement as it is the only agency that has to run adult and juvenile jails, courthouse security, extradition, and civil proves. I am familiar with how the County runs their business and am very intricately involved with the County Judges office and the Quorum Court.
3. What is the most important skill of being a good Sheriff?
Jarrard Copeland: To me, the most important skill of being a good sheriff is the ability to communicate and lead others in a way that inspires them to be the best they can be. In any agency, the police officer or deputy on the street is a reflection of the leader at the top. I want the citizens of Sebastian County to be proud of their sheriff’s office and I have developed the leadership skills to inspire those working under my command to be the best. I will also actively listen to the citizens and act upon the information I receive. The art of being a good communicator is to listen first. One of my favorite books is “Seven Habits of Effective Leaders” and of those seven habits, my personal favorite is “seek first to understand, then be understood”. As the public information officer for the Fort Smith Police Department for seven years, I was able to effectively communicate with the citizens to get information from and to them in a manner that was easy for them to understand to keep them informed about the functions of the Fort Smith Police Department.
Randy McFadden: Transparency-open door policy. I will use my experiences to bring together our community, officials, and law enforcement agencies to make Sebastian County a safer place to live and work by being available to all the people of Sebastian County.
Hobe Runion: The most important skill to being a good Sheriff is the ability to care about, listen to, and truly help our citizens. The knowledge of the resources that we have both in Sebastian County and regionally, and the ability to utilize them for the overall well being of our community is imperative.
4. Access our current department. Would you change some things or keep it the way it is?
Jarrard Copeland: As the newly elected sheriff, I will spend the first several months assessing the agency to determine what is working well and what changes need to be made. I believe we have a good sheriff’s office but I also believe there is always room for improvement. Since entering the race for sheriff, I have met with numerous individuals throughout the county and it has become apparent to me that we can do a better job of communicating and cooperating with the various agencies throughout the county. Information sharing is a must in law enforcement and I plan to bring all of the agencies together periodically to share information and ensure that we are all on the same page. Criminals network to commit their crimes and victimize our citizens and we as law enforcement officers should be networking as well to stay ahead of those who wish to do us harm. I and my deputies will be more visible in the county if I am elected. The most common complaint I have heard from people in the county is that they rarely see the sheriff or any deputies. Taking into consideration that Sebastian County is a very large county and it is not uncommon to have only two or three deputies to cover the entire area, I understand that it is difficult to have good coverage throughout the county. I do, however, believe that we can do a better job of being more visible and actually meeting the citizens, especially in the south and east parts of the county. I also believe that as a leader, you get the best production from employees who enjoy their jobs. I have heard from several current deputies who have confided in me and expressed their disappointment in the current working conditions. It is sometimes difficult to assess these types of complaints when you don’t personally know the personalities or work ethic of those expressing their grievances but when you hear the same complaints from several different individuals, it adds more credibility to the information received. I am anxious to listen to the members of the agency and make the necessary changes to improve morale within the agency so that every member is proud to serve as a Sebastian County deputy and again, make the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office the envy of every other county in the state.
Randy McFadden: We will be proactive on implementing technology both in the jail and in dispatch systems . We also need to change our practices on hiring and retaining employees in the jail and court security to reduce the employee turnover rate.
Hobe Runion: In Sebastian County we have a Sheriff’s Department that we can be proud of. If you’re going to run for Sheriff as an outsider you have to have something to run on. As a member of our department for 18 years I have a vision to improve our department and continue to progress to keep our agency a leader in our region. I believe by keeping open dialogue with our cities and law enforcement agencies we can be more efficient and provide a level of service to be proud of. By utilizing the skill sets that our personnel already possess we can be more receptive to the needs of the county and their desires. One item that I want to expand is the resource leveling that I have already initiated to cover areas that we are short by using trained people from other divisions. This allows us to covers shortfalls without having to request additional hires.
5. What do you feel the biggest need is in the county and how do you plan to address it as Sheriff?
Jarrard Copeland: It is difficult to narrow this down to one specific thing but the opioid crisis, school security and jail overcrowding are three very real challenges that the new sheriff will have to face when elected. The one common denominator in addressing all of these challenges is it will require support from the citizens of Sebastian County. I plan to involve the citizens in the planning and decision making to address each of these issues. We police the people with the people’s consent. The sheriff’s office belongs to the citizens of Sebastian County and I want to build strong relationships in our communities to solicit ideas and solutions to these problems. The opioid crisis will require input from school officials, medical personnel, pharmacists, emergency room personnel, legislators and law enforcement. We have to identify those who are struggling with addiction and work to get them the help they need but we also have to come up with long term solutions. I feel that the best way to combat this epidemic long term is to educate everyone from young kids in the schools to parents and grandparents who unknowingly make their prescription medications available to their kids by leaving them in areas that are easily accessible. It is sometimes difficult for us, as parents, to acknowledge the fact that our kids will experiment with drugs and we sometimes assume that this will not be a problem for us. However, Arkansas was ranked #1 by the Center for Disease Control in kids between the ages of 12 and 17 who have experimented with opioids. Most of those kids said it was easy to get their hands on these drugs in the parents or grandparents medicine cabinets. Education is key to solving this problem long term.
School security must be improved to ensure our kids can go to school and learn to become productive citizens without the worry of someone entering their schools to do them harm. The best solution will be to place a certified school resource officer in each and every school but that requires a lot of tax payer dollars. Another solution would be to deputize school teachers and make them certified reserve deputies who can carry handguns in the schools for the protection of our children. Finally, arming selected teachers and faculty members who prove to be capable, competent and proficient at handling a firearm. As a parent of two young daughters who will soon enter public schools, I will feel better knowing that we have good people in our schools who are armed with the necessary tools to stop a threat if and when some mentally deranged subject enters the school with the intent to kill as many kids and teachers as possible. It is my belief that we are fortunate to live in a region of the country where many of us where raised around guns and taught at a very early age to respect them and use them safely. As a 25 year law enforcement veteran, I have carried a handgun virtually every day of my career and qualified with it twice a year. However, I have friends and acquaintances in several of our schools who I know are just as capable, if not more so, to carry and use a handgun when necessary. Because I am confident in the abilities of so many of our citizens in Sebastian County, I will feel better as a parent of a child in school, knowing that one or more of these teachers or faculty members is ready at all times to confront anyone who enters the schools to harm our children. Along these same lines, I am a strong supporter of our 2nd Amendment and a life time member of the NRA. As the NRA CEO, Wayne Lapierre once said, “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. We are blessed to have many good folks in Sebastian County and it is our inherent right to keep and bear arms for the protection of our families.
Our quorum court members are already taking steps to alleviate the jail overcrowding problem but it will not be solved by the time the new sheriff takes office. One option that has been considered is to convert the current Sheriff’s Office into a female detention center and moving the sheriff and his staff to the EOC at the intersection Zero and Massard. This would help with the jail overcrowding but there is not enough money in the current budget to fund the staff to run this new female facility. Therefore, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to fix this problem and like I mentioned earlier, I believe the best way to solve it is to involve the citizens of Sebastian County. This is a problem that has been ignored for way too long and is now in a crisis situation. Overcrowding causes safety concerns for the inmates as well as the employees who work there so this is not something that can wait. I plan to search for the necessary funds to expand our jail and to solicit ideas from the citizens. As it stands now, we are having to release individuals who have committed crimes because there simply isn’t room to house all of them. The citizens of Sebastian County will feel safer knowing that those who seek to victimize us are behind bars where they belong. As I have said many times, we must partner with the citizens to find long term solutions to these problems.
Randy McFadden: We have two big needs. The citizens have told me repeatedly we need more visibility in the rural areas to help cut down on theft and illegal drug activity. Along with this, we need to educate our students and adults on the opioid problems that our entire county faces. We need to start aggressive enforcement on the drug dealers and attack the causes of high theft rate in Sebastian County. This can be done by getting the county citizens, law enforcement agencies, and schools to work together . For example have town hall meetings to gather information and develop a plan of action. The second big need is the jail. We need to develop a hiring and retention plan for employees . We need to re-evaluate in place processes used in the jail to make improvements and reduce costs and damage to the interior of the jail.
Hobe Runion: Currently the biggest need in the County is to address and combat the opioid crisis. That is a passion of mine, which is why I’ve served on the Sebastian County Opioid Task Force since its inception. We need to pursue all areas dealing with this crisis to include education, legislation, treatment, and enforcement by continuing to engage with our experts in each field to mitigate the devastation from the drug crisis. Operationally the largest need has always been and will continue to be the jail. Out of our $11,500,000.00 budget $8,500,000.00 is to run the Adult and Juvenile Detention Centers.