Randy Higgins of Greenbrier said his mother likes to tell this story:
When he was a little boy, she asked him and his brother what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“My brother said a policeman. I wanted to be ‘in charge,’” Higgins said, laughing.
He has sort of done both.
The 52-year-old has worked his way up to district general manager at SimplexGrinnell in North Little Rock, served as a commander of reserve deputies in Faulkner County and started the Greenbrier Police Department reserve-officer program, of which he is commander.
As a justice of the peace on the Faulkner County Quorum Court, he is working with competing animal-welfare factions to get a solution to the county’s stray-animal problem, as well as the lack of a county disaster plan that includes guidelines for caring for animals.
Higgins, who grew up in Little Rock, had a different plan for his life — more of a flight plan.
He started taking pilot lessons at age 15 and was a pilot at 17, because his dream was to be a naval aviator.
“I was a history buff; I still am,” he said.
His parents weren’t thrilled, but they let him do it, if he paid for the lessons. At 15, he started working for Pepsi in Little Rock driving a fork lift.
“They let you do that then,” he said.
While his high school buddies were getting new cars or trucks with their savings from part-time jobs, he was driving a 1967 hand-me-down Volkswagen, he said.
It didn’t matter to his high school sweetheart, Verna, who is now his wife.
Higgins found out he did not have uncorrected 20-20 vision, and his dream of being a Navy pilot ended.
“That was kind of heartbreaking,” he said. “That steered me in a completely different direction.”
He got an associate degree in electronics at Arkansas College of Technology in Little Rock. At first he worked on cash registers and electronic-banking equipment; then he got a job at Simplex in Little Rock as a technical representative, repairing time recorders and fire alarms.
The company later sold to Tyco, merged with Grinnell and is the largest fire-protection company in North America. The company installs fire alarms and sprinkler systems, as well as some security systems, in school districts such as Conway and Greenbrier, and at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
When he was on a job for the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office 19 years ago, then-Sheriff Bob Blankenship asked Higgins if he’d be interested in being a reserve deputy.
Higgins and his family had moved to Greenbrier from Little Rock for the small-town experience.
“I saw this as a good way to get ingrained into the community a whole lot faster,” he said.
“When you go to the grocery store, you see people you go to your kids’ ballgames with, people you go to church with,” Higgins said.
Higgins grew up hunting, and he collects World War II firearms, so the idea of being a deputy didn’t faze him.
“Faulkner County is one of few counties in Arkansas that has its own reserve-deputy training program that is certified by the state,” he said.
Reserve deputies, who are volunteers, have all the authority of a full-time deputy, but only when working on duty.
“In my almost 20 years of doing this, I’ve been on SWAT raids and drug raids, investigated plane crashes, crime scenes, murder scenes,” Higgins said. “I’ve been on manhunts.”
One big case was the 1997 kidnapping of mobile-home manufacturer and now banker Johnny Allison of Conway by prison escapee James Slack, who then fled and was found hiding in the woods near Mayflower.
“I was reserve commander,” Higgins said. “I brought my team in and assigned each one of my reserve deputies to partner with full-time officers to go look. When we caught Slack, me and a couple of deputies were the ones who showed up to back up Cpl. Max Young [of the state police].”
The main job of reserve deputies, though, is to serve as support troops, Higgins said, and assist at parades and other large events.
When celebrities from the TV shows Duck Dynasty and Swamp People came to Greenbrier on different occasions, Higgins said 10 to 15 Faulkner County reserve deputies helped out.
“It was organized chaos,” he said.
Higgins had to resign from the reserve unit with the sheriff’s office when he was elected to the Faulkner County Quorum Court in 2010 for 2011-2012, because the two positions created a conflict of interest.
A few days later, Greenbrier Police Chief Gene Earnhart asked Higgins to develop a reserve-officer program for the city’s police department.
Higgins connected the Greenbrier program with the Faulkner County training program, and they work together in a “great” relationship, he said.
Higgins said he likes to tease Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock, who started as a reserve officer under Higgins’ command. “I kid Andy — ‘Remember, you used to work for me,’” Higgins said.
Shock said he admires Higgins.
“Look up proficient in the dictionary — that’s Randy Higgins,” Shock said.
Recruiting is strict for reserve deputies, Higgins said, and the training is intense.
The deputies are required to work at least one eight-hour shift a month and go to monthly training meetings, but putting in 20 to 25 hours a month is average.
Higgins said someone encouraged him to run for justice of the peace.
“You hear people complain all the time; you have these elected officials, and ‘you need to throw the bums out.’”
He was one of those people.
“Oh, yeah, I was complaining,” he said.
Higgins also said he believes deputies and detention officers are underpaid.
“I run a multimillion-dollar business here, with 65 employees, and we work statewide. That’s all county government is — business on a county
level,” he said. “I didn’t see a lot of business experience on the Quorum Court, and by then, I’d had 16 years of law enforcement. I felt like that’s something I could offer.”
He said he spent the first two years on the court learning how it all works. Former Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin appointed Higgins to the Courts and Public Safety Committee, which he now chairs.
One issue Scroggin brought to Higgins’ attention is the need for a county animal shelter, and the topic is controversial, Higgins said.
“Animal welfare was not my passion — at all,” Higgins said. “I said, ‘Well, let me roll up my sleeves.’”
He met with current Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, and they decided Higgins should tackle the issue by first forming a working committee.
Dodson said Higgins can handle the challenge.
“He’s such an impressive individual, and he does a terrific job as a justice of the peace. I’m proud to call him a friend,” Dodson said.
“We’ve really moved forward,” Higgins said.
An ordinance was adopted that makes animal owners in the county responsible for their animals’ actions, and the committee is looking at options to work with the city of Conway on a joint shelter.
“The ordinance was the first groundbreaking step,” he said.
Another issue Higgins is in the thick of is getting a county disaster plan for animal welfare because there isn’t one, and it was painfully evident after the April 27 tornado that tore through Faulkner County, he said.
As commander of the Greenbrier reserve officers, the days following the tornado normally would have been Higgins’ time to go into action.
His wife, however, was having brain surgery April 28 in Little Rock, and he dealt with the disaster’s issues by phone.
Verna was diagnosed eight years ago with Parkinson’s disease, which was mostly treated by medication until recently, he said. She had deep-brain-stimulator surgery, which includes implanting electrodes in the brain and a pacemaker-type device under the chest.
That treatment has lessened her symptoms by 50 percent, Higgins said.
“We’re just making life adjustments,” he said.
The couple enjoy riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles together, and a trip over the Fourth of July weekend was her first since the surgeries. He found a special motorcycle helmet that was comfortable for her.
Her health issues have made him become more patient and focused on her, he said.
“She is the driving force behind me — literally, my inspiration,” he said.
She never complains, and she gives him encouragement, he said.
However, Higgins said, his wife often asks him to relax.
“She asks me regularly, ‘Can you not turn it off?’” He smiled and said he tells her, “No.”
To him, being busy and involved is relaxing, he said.
Higgins said he’s often asked: “How do you do it all?”
For one thing, Higgins said, “I almost never watch TV.”
Being a good leader “takes a significant amount of effort,” he said.
“It’s all about serving the community,” Higgins said. “I think too many people sit back on their couches and complain about the way things are.”
He said he is just using his training and God-given talents to help make the community better.
Of the awards Higgins has won, which include two President’s Awards from SimplexGrinnell, there is a
simple-looking framed certificate that he points to on the wall.
It’s the President’s Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award, signed by President George W. Bush, for the 5,000 hours of service Higgins has given through the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office that means the most, he said.
Steve Padgett, a friend, former Faulkner County reserve deputy and service manager at SimplexGrinnell, heard Higgins tell the story about how he wanted to be “in charge” when he grew up.
“He’s pretty much in charge of whatever thing he’s in,” Padgett said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.