Sheriff pitches new ACIC deal for cities

Friday, April 11, 2014

BERRYVILLE -- Sheriff Bob Grudek is proposing a new deal for the Arkansas Criminal Information Center and dispatch services that his office provides Green Forest and Berryville.

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office is currently providing the services for free, but will soon start charging a "reasonable fee," Grudek said. The ACIC bills the CCSO for an average of $400 a month for the services, and Grudek said he intends to start billing the cities for their share of the cost. He also said that he hopes the Justices of the Peace of the Carroll County Quorum Court will honor the written agreements between the cities and the county and draft an ordinance charging the cities for the services.

In a meeting between Grudek and Green Forest Mayor Charlie Reece, the sheriff proposed the idea of having the city pay for half the cost of a dispatcher's salary for one year and after paying the full cost to cover the ACIC and dispatch services. The full cost would add up to roughly $36,000 a year.

Initially, Grudek had planned to start by charging the full cost to each city right away, but he changed his mind.

"I told him that any additional requests for funding plans have to go to the Quorum Court first," Reece said. "We want to provide the police and citizens with as much protection as possible. One thing he and I talked about was that no action will be taken by Green Forest until at least the last of July. That will give us a chance to review it with the City Council and him a chance to talk to JPs."

Reece also asked Grudek if would attend a City Council meeting and discuss the issue with them,; Grudek said he agreed to help explain. Grudek also wrote a letter to Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney requesting a meeting to discuss the situation.

"I just looked at it briefly," McKinney said about the letter. "At first glance it looks like the same thing as always ... everything was working fine until the sheriff stirred all this up. I would like to see some comparisons [to other sheriff departments] and look at the budget because it seems like he gets a pretty big chunk of money. We just need to look at his budget and see if the .5 percent sales tax is not paying for all of the jail and dispatch. I want to be sure that all the money is being used for that purpose before we commit to anything."

In his letter, Grudek wrote to McKinney that the sales tax does not cover all the cost, it is being used appropriately, and it is audited every year by the state to make sure the funds are used correctly.

The county passed the .5 percent sales tax increase that McKinney is referring to in 2000 to fund the jail and dispatch. The ballot does not say that the the sheriff can't charge for any services, nor does it say the city is entitled to any free services.

The ACIC services provided to the cities include entering and deleting warrants from the database, entering and deleting stolen property, VIN verifications and after-hours criminal record checks. When someone is pulled over in a traffic stop the police officer usually accrues 20 cents worth of charges from ACIC for services such as running the vehicle's registration [tags], checking the status of the driver's license and any criminal history checks.

The dispatch services that the sheriff mentioned were the after-hour phone answering services provided to city police. When someone calls the city police departments after their normal business hours, they are told to call 911 if it is an emergency and then given the phone number to county dispatch if it is not.

If they call dispatch, the operator will relay the call to whatever officer is on duty. This is not the responsibility of the sheriff's office and the city should pay for these services, the sheriff said.

The sheriff then continue to say he intends to bill the cities for the ACIC services and keep a record of what he thinks they owe him. But he will continue to pay the whole bill whether the cities pay or not, because it is addressed to the CCSO. That is where the terminal is and the county can not afford to lose the services ACIC provides.

Grudek also said that regardless of what is decided or what the city does, that it will not affect the 911 emergency services provided to the cities.

Grudek later said he is willing to work with the city officials and quorum court to establish a "reasonable fee" for the services that will be less than what it would cost for the cities to establish a 24-hour dispatcher with ACIC training.

"If they want us to do it in the future, they are going to have to pay a fee for it," Grudek said. "There are many issues involved with ACIC. We have to do the hiring, the training, we have the liability for timely responses and we have to send people to school to maintain their certification. Just to have the 24-hour operation you are looking at $200,000 cost for personnel."

With the operation of ACIC, law enforcement officers are required to respond to an ACIC terminal hit within 10 minutes no matter what time it is, or they would face consequences such as losing their ACIC terminal or certification to use one.

An example of one of these terminal hits would be if an officer pulled someone over who has an outstanding warrant in Carroll County; the terminal would then notify the police department and they would respond in a timely manner as to whether they would extradite the subject.

The Berryville Police Department acquired an ACIC terminal on Dec. 9 and certified multiple employees to use it after the sheriff shared his intention to stop providing the services. But they do not have it staffed and operating for 24 hours a day. The city police have been depending on the CCSO for any terminal hits that occur after their normal business hours.

The other issue which the sheriff is concerned about is the medical cost associated with the housing of city prisoners. The sheriff said he will take a more firm stance on charging the cities for their prisoners medical cost after July 1 as well.

In a letter Grudek sent to multiple JPs, he asked two questions: Why are the written agreements from 2004 not endorsed by the at-time sheriff, Chuck Medford? And if the cities refuse to pay the medical cost associated with housing city prisoners does it void the agreements? The letter also requested for the Quorum Court to obtain an opinion on the matter from legal counsel.

In 2004, the Carroll County Quorum Court passed Ordinance 93-15 which exempts the cities from paying for the feeding, housing and supervision of prisoners, but specifically states all medical costs for city prisoners will be covered by the cities. Before the the ordinance was passed the at-time mayors of Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs agreed to the terms.

The agreements were turned into the Quorum Court and signed by Richard Deweese, Tim McKinney and Kathy Harrison, the mayors of the aforementioned cities, respectively. These are the agreements to which the sheriff is referring.

The ordinance and the agreements did not state anything about ACIC and dispatch services.

The CCSO pays an average of $60,000 a year for prisoner medical costs, and the sheriff said he believes his office can abate some of these cost by having the city cover their prisoners' medical fees. He continued to say that the CCSO recently received a bill from Mercy Hospital for $4,000 for a prisoner that the Berryville Police Department arrested and was responsible for.

City officials for Green Forest and Berryville, including mayors and police chiefs, contend that they have covered all medical expenses they are responsible for and do not mind covering the expenses, but the bills from the CCSO are rare and come infrequently.

In correspondence to McKinney, the sheriff stated that the cities have never paid for medical cost for their prisoners, and it is unknown why the cities were not charged for the medical services.

The next Quorum Court meeting is on Friday, April 18 at 10 a.m.

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