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FORT SMITH -- A consolation of the Fort Smith Police Department's inability to fill vacancies on its force this year is that it allowed $1.4 million to be put toward the department's capital needs.

Purchases approved by city directors at a Nov. 6 meeting included new vehicles, police radios, special response equipment, fencing around the Police Department and a driver simulator.

The money for the purchases is coming from the department's personnel budget, which was reduced because of unfilled vacancies. There were 20 or 21 vacancies in the department this year, according to city Finance Director Jennifer Walker.

Fort Smith is the state's second-largest city, with about 88,000 residents. The Police Department has 164 officer positions, according to city documents.

City directors also approved buying body cameras and vehicle cameras using federal and state forfeiture funds, which Walker said are considered operating reserve funds and not part of the general fund that finances the police and other city departments.

Minutes from the Nov. 6 meeting show that Police Chief Nathaniel Clark said Police Department vacancies were common among departments across the country. The Fort Smith Police Department was working on developing new avenues for recruitment to fill the vacancies, he said.

City Administrator Carl Geffken added that the vacancies in Fort Smith occurred because of attrition and because space is limited at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy. It takes about nine months of training to put a new officer on the street, he said.

A memo from Clark said it was critical that the Police Department have "adequate and technologically advanced resources, which are paramount to the idea of 21st Century policing."

The memo detailed the planned spending.

At the top of the list were nine Chevrolet Tahoe police vehicles that will be equipped with mobile data terminals and two-way radios. The price tag is $486,467.10.

In addition to the patrol cars, the detective division will get three new sedans for a total of $75,000, animal control will receive two new pickups for $48,600, and a fourth Harley-Davidson motorcycle will be added to the motorcycle unit for $32,281.

Continuing an ongoing replacement plan, Clark's memo said, the department will buy 60 portable radios for about $270,000.

A security fence will be erected to enclose the department's parking area on the west side of the police station at a cost of $208,480.

Clark's memo said the open parking lot makes police vehicles vulnerable to damage from passers-by. On one occasion, the memo said, a man who had just been released from the county jail across the street from the station tried to break the window of one of the patrol cars so he could be arrested and put back in jail, where he wanted to be. On another occasion, an officer found a man sleeping under one of the cars.

The department has requested that bulletproof door panels and thermal-imaging cameras be added to five vehicles at a total cost of $55,000. Clark's memo said the enhancements will allow the vehicles to be used for immediate response to emergency situations where officers or civilians are injured or in danger and before the special weapons and tactics team or the department's armored vehicle could be sent in.

The driving simulator, at $155,000, would be used to improve and maintain driving skills for uniformed and nonuniformed employees by presenting multiple driving conditions and situations. The simulator would save on fuel, and wear and tear on department vehicles, Clark's memo said.

Directors voted on Dec. 18 to waive competitive bidding and purchase 80 body cameras and 15 vehicle cameras from Axon Enterprises Inc. for $401,788.04, with the money to come from state and federal forfeiture funds.

A memo from Clark said Axon was the only company whose equipment could provide the ability to redact video and automatic triggers. It also was the only company that could integrate the body cameras with vehicle cameras, Taser cameras and civilian-submitted videos, place it all on one software platform and package it for criminal prosecution or civilian release.

State Desk on 12/26/2018

Print Headline: Officer vacancies let city put $1.4M into vehicles, gear

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