Damascus officials are asking the 20th Judicial District to lift traffic and other patrol sanctions placed against the city nearly a year ago.
The city was found in violation of the state’s speed trap laws last year and was ordered to cease patrol of all highways. City Attorney Beau Wilcox requested on Wednesday to reconsider these provisions previously set in place by former Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland that bar the city’s police department from patrolling city streets.
In a letter written to now-20th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson earlier this week, Wilcox pointed out that that under the sanctions set in place by Hiland, the city could request a relief after one year had passed. As of May 10, the sanctions currently imposed against the city have been set in place for one year. Without relief, the sanctions would remain in effect through the end of 2018.
Hiland found in February 2017 that Damascus was, in fact, in violation of the Arkansas speed trap statue because the city’s revenues from fines exceeded 30 percent of the city’s expenditures for each of the two previous years.
“Our reasons for requesting such review are multifarious and are offered with the understanding that certain matters germane to the findings and sanctions remain yet to be fully adjudicated lawsuit,” Wilcox wrote. “I am sending this correspondence several days in advance of the one-year anniversary date of the sanctions being levied, May 10, 2018, so that you may have adequate time to consider whether the relief requested herein should be granted.”
Ferguson confirmed Friday that he’d received Wilcox’s letter and told the Log Cabin Democrat that he expected to make a decision regarding this matter “within the next few weeks.”
Wilcox said that city officials are open to stricter auditing scrutiny in return that the sanctions be lifted.
“Due to the concerns about the Damascus Police Department’s alleged abuse of police power in generating revenue for the City, the City will agree to additional auditing and accounting measures for a finite period.”
He proposed the city would provide the prosecutor’s office with “financial data, voluntarily and as a means of verifying its genuine mission to maintain traffic safety rather than generate revenue, each fiscal year for the next three … years, beginning with the 2018 calendar year and then providing the same information for 2019 and 2020.”
With the summer season approaching, Wilcox argued that the city’s police department needs its rights reinstated so that it could properly monitor the city’s increased traffic flow. Wilcox noted officials are working toward installing a traffic light at the intersections of highways 65 and 124, noting the traffic light would also help to regulate traffic and that County Judge Jim Baker has requested funding from the Arkansas State Highway Department to make this improvement possible.
Prior to requesting the one-year review, Damascus have battled Hiland’s findings in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
In a February hearing, Circuit Judge Chris R. Carnahan rejected the city’s claims that the state’s speed trap laws were unconstitutional but said he would allow Damascus officials to gather data for a hearing that would allow him to review the data that was used in determining the city was in violation.
Carnahan said Wilcox would be responsible for gathering the data to disprove the Arkansas State Police’s calculations but that he wanted to see an evidentiary hearing in the matter later his year. Should Ferguson rule in the city’s favor following Wilcox’s recent request, there would be no need to pursue the city’s civil suit against Hiland’s previous findings.
Since sanctions against the city were imposed last year, the city has downsized it’s police department. The city has eliminated the individual police chief role and currently has one part-time officer.
Former Police Chief Rick Perry was fired “for cause” and has since consolidated the police chief’s administrative cuties and control within the mayor’s position.
“The City has previously asserted in ongoing correspondence with Legislative Audit, arising from a criminal investigation of Perry’s conduct and expenditures during his tenure, and has publicly stated many times that this change has already been, and will continue to be, an effective means of exercising more control and oversight of the police department, not simply from a law enforcement standpoint but also with regard to matters of budgeting, allocation of resources, personnel decisions, and other matters germane to the operation of an effective municipal law enforcement agency,” Wilcox said in his letter to Ferguson.
Wilcox also said in his letter that the police department hopes to grow to two full-time officers and two part-time officers.