Former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official Bill Bryant was sworn in as the 19th director of the Arkansas State Police on Monday, promising a broad assessment of the agency that will determine his priorities as its top commander.
In a ceremony at the Capitol, the 58-year-old Bryant automatically assumed the rank of colonel and took over the state's largest law enforcement group. Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson, who appointed Bryant to the position, attended along with several state police commanders and local DEA officials.
Twenty years of Bryant's nearly four decades in law enforcement were spent at the Little Rock District office of the DEA. During a stint at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Va., Bryant served as chief of congressional affairs under then-administrator Hutchinson.
"Bill has been a true friend of mine," Hutchinson said Monday. "He's been a great servant to the state of Arkansas. He understands the law enforcement community, and he served it from day one and he continues to do so."
Bryant now leads 533 commissioned troopers and 419 civilian support staff members in five divisions: criminal investigations, crimes against children, regulatory and building operations, highway patrol, and administrative services. The agency has a fleet of 835 vehicles and an operating budget of $139,539,250 this fiscal year.
Bryant said his first task as director -- which he called his "dream job" -- will be evaluating the agency.
"I think any leader in an organization will get over in the organization for a little bit and observe. [State police] do many things well, which makes it easy for me. But I will take a good look at everything, and hopefully some of my outside experiences will make it more effective and efficient," he said.
As director, Bryant will recommend hirings and promotions to the seven-person state police commission. He'll have to replace 19 commanders who are scheduled for retirement in his first year, an above-average number of departing top brass. There were 21 commanders who retired during his predecessor's 2½-year tenure.
Bryant has two vacant commander positions to fill in the highway patrol division. Leonard Hogg, former captain of Troop E in Pine Bluff, left the agency to become Lincoln County sheriff this year. Jimmy Smith, former captain of Troop F in Warren, retired.
Troop K, Hot Springs, Capt. Mark Allen is scheduled to retire July 1. Troop C, Jonesboro, Capt. Jim Howington is to retire Dec. 1.
Bryant said high turnover is expected at an agency the size of the state police. He said his command staff will be important as he settles into his new position.
"I'm going to depend on them. Fortunately, I've been around long enough, so I do know some of the supervisors, so I do have some knowledge," he said.
Among those supervisors is Maj. Stan Witt, Bryant's predecessor. The two have known each other for more than 20 years.
Witt officially took over the administrative services division after Monday's ceremony. He requested last week to be demoted from colonel to major, saying he would like to remain with the agency until his pension begins Jan. 1. The demotion was approved by the state police commission.
"I'm glad he's staying on," Bryant said. "He'll be a sounding board for me. ... I'll depend on Stan for some knowledge, but I'll also be depending on my command staff, a great command staff there. I'm going to lean heavily on them."
Under Bryant's leadership, the Little Rock District office of the DEA ran an annual marijuana-eradication program in collaboration with state police. Troopers and DEA agents searched for marijuana plots from the air using National Guard helicopters.
Bryant said drug interdiction operations will continue between the agencies, and he'll explore installing certain DEA policies and investigative techniques at the state police.
He also pledged his cooperation with elected officials and federal and local authorities.
"We're a small state. We have to work together," he said. "And I've been in other states, different parts of the country where the federal agencies and the state agencies and local agencies don't get along. It's not that way in Arkansas. "
Bryant plans to examine the agency's handling of crash reports, as well.
An amendment to state law that took effect New Year's Day requires law enforcement agencies to redact the names and addresses of youths in crash reports, information that was previously public. State police officials said the agency lacks the manpower to redact that information from the thousands of crash reports it processes each year. They decided to prohibit bulk inspection of the reports, which remain public, to comply with the amendment.
The decision drew criticism from journalists, as well as personal injury attorneys who depend on open access to the reports to target potential clients.
"Especially with my background in congressional affairs, any time you have a new law and you implement a new law, sometimes you might have to tweak it or make adjustments," Bryant said. "I'm going to get over there and we're going to give it a good look with our legal staff and make a determination. But we want to strike a balance with the protection [of youths' information] and, also, we want to fully implement the law. And we don't want to make it difficult for our citizens of Arkansas, either."
Bryant's salary under Arkansas law is $118,786.10 per year, with a monthly expense allowance of $600.
NW News on 01/13/2015