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Sheriff candidates bring the heat at KTLO’s first political forum

Candidates for the Office of Sheriff in Baxter County had the opportunity to share their views and approaches to law enforcement at KTLO’s political forum Monday morning in a 30-minute long discussion.

Topics ranged from the county’s narcotics problem to the pending federal lawsuit filed against Baxter County and the Sheriff’s office last December.

Each candidate was allotted a two-minute introduction. KTLO’s Heather Loftis moderated the forum and stated that the submitted questions were not edited by KTLO.

Incumbent Sheriff John Montgomery was given preference to start and delivered a well-polished stump speech.

John Montgomery

“I believe that transparency is the greatest form of public trust, as a result, my guiding principles of honesty, integrity and professionalism have shaped the direction of this office,” said John Montgomery. “It has always been my belief that everyone should be treated equally and fairly, regardless of their race, history or social background. Which is why our deputies know they can enforce the law equally to all concerned. Good old boy networks does not have a place here.”

Montgomery has been Sheriff of Baxter County for the last 17 plus years and has at least 34 years of total law enforcement experience in the Twin Lakes area.

Henry Campfield

“I started my career 21 years ago with the Sheriff’s office and knew 3 months going in this is where I wanted to end my career. Everything I’ve done to this point has brought me to here,” said Henry Campfield.

Campfield currently serves as the Flippin Chief of Police. He has served in almost all aspects of law enforcement throughout his career with an exception as a school resource officer. He is also a special deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service.

“The unique thing about me, with some of the research I’ve done, is that I bring the most experience to the office of Sheriff as a first-time candidate,” Campfield said.

John Pate

“One of the things I am not a part of is the good old boy system, I’m not in with the political agenda or the clique,” said John Pate.

John Pate is currently a private investigator that covers four different states. Pate got his start in law enforcement in West Memphis, Arkansas as a dispatcher and jailer. He is also a former police officer and county deputy.

“We need investigators working on different types of cases, because we have to change with the times, specifically, internet pedophiles. We’ve got problems with nursing home abuse cases that are being ignored with them hiding behind HIPPA, there’s multiple drug problems in the county that need to be addressed and if I’m elected sheriff that will be my main focus is the narcotics problem here in Baxter county.”

Narcotics and Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine in Arkansas continues to be a topic of discussion in many rural and urban communities. According to a 2020 study by Millennium Health, Arkansas leads the nation in the number of people testing positive for the drug.

All candidates agreed that the area has a meth problem. Both Campfield and Pate stressed a more boots on the ground approach to combating the drug problem in the area.

“The more people we have out working our streets, the more proactive we can be, you know, nobody likes to get stopped, but that’s how we find drugs,” said Campfield.

Pate pitched taking 10 reserve deputies and putting them on the road 24 hours a month, saying it would equate to an extra three units on duty per shift, seven days a week. Pate also said if a program inside the jail doesn’t help break the cycle of addition for some, then longer prison terms may need to be an option.

“Baxter county has an epidemic of Methamphetamines around here, the past 10 years it has skyrocketed. How are we going to combat it? First thing we have to do is we have to get more officers on the road, we have to get canines out there on the street,” said Pate.

Montgomery mentioned recent work that has already been in swing and admitted to not knowing all the answers to solving the drug problem.

“Well, first of all, if I had the answer to solve them, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Montgomery.

Addiction is a complex public health crisis that does not have a one-size fits all approach.

“We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem, it takes a multi-phased approach and one that we’ve been working on,” said Montgomery. “Yes, you have to have arrests, you have to have enforcement. We have to work with the prosecutors. That’s why we work with CareCenter Ministries and other recovery groups to try to get some of these inmates in from our jail instead of just incarceration.”

Reserve Deputies

The discussion shifted to the number of reserve deputies available at any given time. Pate claimed that a source told him the county had 96 reserve deputies on-hand but that figure was corrected by Montgomery.

“First of all, we do not have 96. Second of all, the state of Arkansas, by law, limits the number of reserve deputies, and actually part-time officers,” said Montgomery. “Currently we have about five active reserve deputies and we utilize them a lot.”

State law allows for two auxiliary law enforcement officers for each full-time certified law enforcement officer employed by the appointing law enforcement agency, or, one auxiliary law enforcement officer for each one thousand persons, whichever is larger. The limit does not apply to school resource officers or search and rescue officers.

The Baxter County Sheriff’s website currently states at time of writing that there are 20 dedicated men and women in the Part Time and Reserve Deputy program. In 2020 alone, Reserve Deputies donated and volunteered 5,046 hours of their time to the Sheriff’s Office.

Enterprise operations

More than one question about working a budget and large business enterprise operations was directed specifically to Campfield.

The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office has a budget of around five million dollars.

“My whole career I’ve worked at this. I’ve been a jailer. I’ve been a dispatcher. I’ve been a patrol officer. I’ve been the admin side of it now working with the budget. You know, everything I’ve done, I’ve done to bring myself to this position,” Campfield said.

Campfield stated that while his current department is small, he works to balance a half a million-dollar budget for the Flippin Police Department.

“I’m on my sixth budget cycle. I started November, so I got thrown into a budget right from the start. So, I have to do that daily,” said Campfield.

Campfield stated that there was a huge difference between a half a million versus five million dollars but that ‘running a budget is running a budget’.

“Knock on wood, in five years I have never been out of my budget,” said Campfield.

Staffing issues and retention

When asked if Pate would retain all current employees if elected, Pate indicated there could be staffing changes based on employees’ performance and work history.

“I will do my best to keep all current employees, but personally, I think there are probably a handful of employees that are past their expiration date and it’s time for them to look elsewhere for other jobs,” said Pate.

Montgomery stated that the department added 3 deputies last year, the first increase in almost 25 years.

Montgomery discussed some of the retention problems the Sheriff’s office faced, explaining his reasoning for working with the Baxter County Quorum Court to separate the deputy and jailer’s pay scale and policies from the county.

“And for the first time since 2020, we are fully staffed, and the moral is as high as it’s ever been. And that’s what it’s all about,” said Montgomery.

Early voting will begin on May 9. Primary Election day is Tuesday, May 24. Arkansas is an open primary state.

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