History of UCAPD

From the UCA Archives XLV

Brief History of the UCA Police Department:


Jimmy Bryant – UCA Archivist

The University of Central Arkansas Police Department, (UCAPD), is a professional law enforcement organization that utilizes professionally-trained officers and the most up-to-date technology to fight crime and protect the students, faculty, staff and visitors at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA).  While the UCAPD is impressive in its organization, training and its ability to fulfill its mission, it came from a very modest and humble beginning.

The first providers of security at UCA were not professional police officers, but “night watchmen.”  The position of night watchman began in the late 1920s and the first person in this capacity that can be identified was H.V. Summers.  Mr. Summers was paid $90.00 per month in 1929 to patrol the campus after dark, according to the 1929 budget.

The Great Depression soon hit after the 1929 budget was approved and UCA suffered financially as did the rest of the state and nation.  The UCA faculty and staff saw their salaries cut by 10% on two separate occasions and then they suffered another reduction in pay in 1935.  They were also paid in warrants instead of cash which also reduced their income.  As a staff member, the night watchman also received cuts in pay.  In addition to the general reduction in pay, the night watchman’s pay was reduced far more than most staff members.

At the beginning of the Great Depression the night watchman position was funded at $90.00 per month.  However, as the Great Depression worsened, the night watchman’s salary was gradually reduced each year until it hit its lowest point of $33 per month in 1939.  Apparently, the night watchman was deemed necessary by UCA administrators because the position was funded throughout the Great Depression.

The night watchman was not armed as law enforcement officers are today. He did not have a firearm, pepper spray, or radio, just a flashlight and in one case the night watchman carried a small baton or black jack slapper.  At some point the night watchmen were issued uniforms, however, they were not standard police issue uniforms.  One of the earliest uniforms issued to a UCA night watchman was a band uniform that came from the UCA Department of Music.

In 1954 Floyd Mills, who had already been teaching in Arkansas’s public schools, returned to UCA to complete his degree in education.  To supplement his income while taking classes he worked as a night watchman on campus from 1954 to 1956.  He was issued a uniform from the UCA Department of Music that was dyed navy blue.  The navy blue coat had two rows of brass buttons on its front and according to his son, Russell Mills, a Conway businessman, it looked a great deal like the uniforms worn by members of the New York City Police Department.

Mr. Mills patrolled the UCA campus during the evening and when he caught students, or any other individuals engaged in wrong-doing, he apprehended them and locked them in Torreyson Library (that building is now known as Harrin Hall).  Those who were detained in Torreyson Library were kept under lock and key until an officer from the Conway Police Department arrived to take them into custody.  Before Mr. Mills ended his employment at UCA in 1956, his title changed from night watchman to “night supervisor of students.”

The title of night supervisor of students soon gave way to another title, “security officer.”  The first person to hold this title was Hoye Henry, who began his duties as security officer at UCA in 1958.  During the 1960-1961 academic year, the UCA budget showed that Officer Henry was paid $3,600 per year plus a house and utilities.

During the decade of the 1960s there was unrest on many college campuses in the form of student-led demonstrations and in some cases, riots.  UCA, however, did not experience massive student demonstrations and certainly no riots.  But, it is believed that the events at other colleges did influence the UCA administration in regard to matters of security.

“Campus Security” was the rather generic name that was given to the department for which the security officers worked.  According to the 1971-1972 State College of Arkansas (UCA’s name at the time) Campus Bulletin, “Campus Security Officers are on duty twenty-four hours a day.  This security coverage is for the protection of students, faculty, staff and College and private property.”

James Ed Smith, who began his career at UCA in 1967 and retired from the UCAPD after 32 years of service, said some of his early responsibilities included responding to altercations between students, breaking up panty raids, checking buildings at night and also issuing tickets.  He also said that in 1967 Campus Security did not have its own office but shared an office with UCA’s physical plant superintendent, Noble Wimberly.

Smith said that Campus Security officers also responded to blue light calls in front of women’s residence halls.  Women students had no key to open the main doors of their residence halls, and after a certain time in the evening the doors were locked.  If a female student returned to her residence hall after the doors were locked, she had to turn on a blue light in front of the building which would then signal a passing Campus Security officer to stop and let the female student into her residence hall.  Smith said the officers passed by the female residence halls every 10 to 15 minutes.  There was no blue light system for the men’s residence halls.

UCA began the decade with one security officer, but by 1969 there were nine security officers in uniform and by 1975 there were 13 security officers on duty.  Another part of the reason for the rapid growth in security personnel can almost certainly be attributed to the steady annual growth of UCA’s enrollment.  In 1960, UCA’s enrollment was 1,681 but by 1975, UCA’s enrollment had grown to 4,759 students.

Campus Security received a new name by the end of the 1970s and was called “Department of Public Safety.”  According to the 1992-1994 UCA Bulletin, “Public Safety officers are on duty twenty-four hours a day for the protection of students, faculty, staff, and University and private property.”  As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, the wording of the purpose of the Department of Public Safety is virtually identical to the wording of the purpose of Campus Security that was written in 1971.

In July 1972, after one year on the job as a UCA security officer, Billy Leach, who had recently retired from the U.S. Air Force and had 16 years of Air Force Security Police experience, was made Chief of Campus Security.  The first area Chief Leach wanted to improve upon was in public relations and how the security officers could better interact with the students.

In a recent interview with this author, Chief Leach stated, “In observing the relationship between the students and myself, it wasn’t what I wanted between our officers and the students.  I wanted the officers to work with the students and not throw the book at them and be somewhat friendly and hospitable.”

Chief Leach was very concerned that his officers had not been properly trained.  Soon after taking the job as Chief he began taking steps to alleviate this problem and properly train his officers.  In addition to the on campus training Leach provided, he also sent his officers to the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy at East Camden, Arkansas.  According to Arkansas law all law enforcement officers had to be certified to make an arrest and this certification was acquired by proper training and passing the required tests.

According to Chief Leach, “UCA officers had the legal authority to make an arrest anywhere in the State of Arkansas.  However, UCA officials preferred that UCA officers limit their authority to the UCA campus.”

After Bob Blankenship was elected Faulkner County Sheriff, Chief Leach invited Sheriff Blankenship to UCA to conduct advanced training classes for UCA officers.  According to Leach, all colleges and universities in Arkansas sent their police officers to UCA to attend the training provided by Sheriff Blankenship and other instructors.

The training that was provided to the police officers at UCA included weapons instruction, firing range and classroom instruction on various topics.  One particular training session lasted two weeks, with officers attending classes all day.

To assist with the police training at UCA several city police departments participated by sending experienced officers to serve as instructors.  Some of the cities, agencies and individuals that furnished instructors to Chief Leach were Conway, North Little Rock, Little Rock, University of Arkansas Police Department, the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney, District Court Judge Jack Roberts and Circuit Court Judge David Reynolds.

Before the issuance of firearms in 1981, UCA security officers had no issued weapons whatsoever.  They had a uniform, badge, handcuffs, a whistle and in 1977 they were issued mobile radios.  The lack of weaponry greatly hampered the officers’ ability to do their jobs.

In 1981, a milestone was reached when Department of Public Safety officers were issued firearms.  Chief Leach saw the need for weapons and requested that the administration provide firearms for his officers.  The decision to issue firearms was done with some regret, according to UCA President Jeff Farris, who was quoted in The Echo as saying, “The obligation of the Public Safety Department on campus is to protect students.  With non-student traffic we’ve had and the size the university has reached, it seems that is the only way we can fulfill that obligation.”  By 1981 UCA’s enrollment was slightly above 6,000 students.

Chief Leach requested that the officers be given firearms due to situations that arose where the officers and/or students felt they were in danger.  According to Chief Leach, “All officers had to receive special training before they could ever be armed by the University.  Jim Elliott of the Arkansas State Police was the chief instructor in getting the officers qualified so they could be authorized to carry side arms.  Even though I had 16 years experience in Air Force Security Police I also underwent handgun training under Elliott.”  The handguns that were issued to the officers were Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolvers.

Once the officers received their newly issued handguns, they were somewhat more confident in doing their jobs, according to Chief Leach.  Training on firearms continued and was ongoing.  Chief Leach had his officers attend the firing range no less than once every six months.

The UCA Board of Trustees purchased 14 handguns in June 1981 and also issued a set of rules to be followed governing the use of firearms.  Officers of the Department of Public Safety began carrying firearms on August 21, 1981.

Chief Leach retired from the UCA Department of Public Safety in 1992, after 21 years of service.  According to the September 9, 1992 Echo, “Leach said things are very different now when compared to 1971, the year he began his career in UCA Public Safety.  We had one desk, one filing cabinet, and three chairs.  When the chairs were filled, it was a full-house.  The two cars we had did not even look like police cars.  They had a small blue light mounted behind the grill.”

“Students had to flag officers down because there was no radio communication…Leach said his greatest accomplishment was getting the officers armed during the summer of 1981.  During that time, marijuana was popular and officers were conducting busts and arrests bare-handed.  It took me a long time to convince the administration to agree that officers needed arms and professional training.  When the officers were first armed, Leach said students told him, now, we feel like you can protect us.”

Billy Leach retired in September 1992 after serving 20 years as the Director of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Public Safety.  His successor was Larry James, who had served as the director of the Portland Community College District Department of Public Safety in Oregon, and prior to that as the Deputy Chief of the San Jose State University Police Department in California.  According to a September 1, 1993, Echo article, Chief James announced he would implement a five-point program at UCA.  The five points were:

  • Increase the accessibility of the University Police to the Campus Community.
  • A friendly parking program that provides assistance to drivers who need a jump start or help in getting keys out of their locked car.
  • Emergency planning for potential disasters.
  • A plan to improve the overall image of the University Police.
  • Improve the accessibility of the student body to the University Police to help resolve problems.

Chief James stated in an interview with this author in May 2007, that all five points of his

1993 program had been met.  Several students, faculty and staff members this author spoke with agreed with his assessment.

Soon after taking command, Chief James recommended to the UCA administration that the Department of Public Safety be renamed the University of Central Arkansas Police Department.  Justifications for the proposed name change were listed in a memo dated September 27, 1993, to Dr. James Dombek, vice president of administration.  Some of the points made in the memo were:

  • Police presence, visibility and identity are critical factors in deterring patrol-preventable crime and enhancing the perception of safety and security.
  • The “University Police” logo now used on UCA police vehicles and our recent change to a traditional police uniform has substantially benefited our officers’ ability to enforce the law, gain compliance and acceptance, de-escalate situations, and deter crime.
  • The term “University Police” is already being used by some constituents on and off campus to reference the Department of Public Safety.  In a recent meeting with more than 50 UCA Housing staff and resident assistants, the proposed name change received overwhelming support.
  • Many members of the UCA community and the general public remain unaware of the authority of our officers as sworn police officers.  This often results in non-compliance with officer’s requests and needlessly impairs our officers when interceding in field situations or enforcing laws and University regulations.
  • The majority of other Arkansas universities have adopted the reference “University Police” which is evidence of its acceptance within the state.

Dr. Dombek wrote a memo dated October 7, 1993, to President Winfred Thompson that was supportive of Chief James’ request.  His recommendation was approved and in the fall of 1993 the Department of Public Safety became the University of Central Arkansas Police Department (UCAPD).

A description of the UCAPD, its purpose and how it is of benefit to the UCA community and the general public can be found on the UCAPD website, (https://uca.edu/police/about-us/) According to the UCAPD website, “The UCA Police Department is the law enforcement agency with primary jurisdiction on all university owned, controlled, or leased properties. UCA Police Officers are trained law enforcement professionals and are certified law enforcement officers by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.”

When Chief James assumed command of the UCAPD in 1993, he brought with him the concept of community oriented policing.  The UCAPD website states, “The UCA Police Department practices the philosophy of community oriented policing. The police department’s relationships with members of the community are invaluable and are one of the most important tools used by the UCA Police Department to accomplish its primary mission which is to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment and create a feeling of safety and security for UCA students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

In an effort to hire only the best people to fill its officer ranks, Chief James instituted a thorough and painstaking selection process, which included a battery of tests.  Failure on any of the following tests could remove the applicant from consideration for employment as a UCA Police Officer.

    • Pass a written examination.
    • Pass a physical endurance test.
    • Appear before a panel of officers for an interview.
    • Pass a background check.
    • Submit to a command oral interview with Chief James and Major John Merguie.
    • Pass a psychological examination.
    • Pass a physical examination.
    • Attend an Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy for 12 weeks.
    • Work with four different Field Training Officers for 90 days.

After being selected for the position the successful applicant is on probation for one year from the date of hire.  When asked why the hiring process was so demanding, Chief James stated, “The rigorous hiring process was so designed to make sure the right person is hired for the position.”

Proper training is one of the keys to fielding a professional police force and Chief James, along with his command staff, has placed an emphasis on training to keep the UCA Police Department operating at peak proficiency.  According to the 2010-2011 UCAPD Annual Report, its officers accrued over 4,500 hours of training during the 2010-2011 academic year.

A list of those training classes include Firearms; Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED); Basic Sign Language; Crime Victim Services; Drug Recognition Expert; Field Training Officer; Standardized Field Sobriety and many other classes.

The UCAPD continues to make progress and stay up-to-date in its training, equipment and methods of operation.  In 2007, the UCAPD upgraded its 911 equipment.  The new equipment allows the UCAPD’s CommCenter to operate as a primary public safety answering point in the 911 system for all 911 calls originating from the UCA campus or university owned/controlled properties.  The CommCenter is the UCAPD Communication Center, from where all activity of the department is coordinated.

Prior to the 2007 upgrade, all 911 calls went to the City of Conway and were then transferred to UCA.  Now, the 911 caller can have immediate access to the UCAPD which can save critical seconds during an emergency situation.  At present, the UCAPD serves as the backup to the City of Conway and Faulkner County 911 services.

After the tragedy at Virginia Tech University, Chief James developed a plan to deal with similar situations should they occur at UCA.  Patrol officers were equipped with patrol rifles and were required to attend comprehensive training courses in immediate action rapid deployment.  According to documents from the UCAPD, “UCA officers were trained in immediate action rapid deployment protocols that provide field officers, as the first responders, with the tools and techniques necessary to act and minimize casualties in such situations.”

On October 26, 2008, the UCA community suffered an unprecedented tragedy.  Two UCA students, Chavares Block, 19, and Ryan Henderson, 18, were gunned down and killed while standing outside Arkansas Hall, a UCA residence hall.  The two innocent victims were shot by non-students who were firing from an SUV.  The four men in the SUV pled guilty, were sentenced and are now serving time with the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Word of the tragedy spread quickly and soon the UCA shooting made national news headlines.  An outpouring of sympathy resulted and letters and cards from around the nation soon began arriving at UCA.  Some of those expressing sympathy were the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas Tech University and Northern Illinois University.

The students at Northern Illinois University (NIU) created a banner, made of heavy cloth material, that was approximately six feet long and three feet wide and covered in words of sympathy and encouragement from NIU students.  NIU had been the scene of a murderous rampage on February 14, 2008, when a gunman killed six people (himself included) and injured 16 with gunfire from a shotgun and three handguns.  Some of the comments from NIU students included, “Huskies feel your pain.  You are in our thoughts;”  “We know what you’re going through.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you;”  “I’m sorry that this is how we have become united, but we’re here for you;” and, “Huskies give UCA Bear hugs.”

The University of Washington Graduate and Professional Student Senate observed a moment of silence for UCA’s Chavares Block and Ryan Henderson as well as for one of their own students who was gunned down in 2007, Rebecca Jane Griego.  The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Student Government Association also held a moment of silence for Chavares Block and Ryan Henderson at one of their meetings.  The university that sent the most letters of sympathy was UCA’s oldest rival, Arkansas Tech University (ATU).

One of the letters from an ATU student that was typical of the content and tone of most of the letters received from ATU, stated in part, “The event that happened last night at UCA has shaken everyone up here at Arkansas Tech University.  We want to do anything we can to help you all.  This event could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t, it happened to UCA.  The only things you can do in times like these are look to God and pray for his help.  We are all praying for you. If this had happened to Arkansas Tech I would hope that I knew someone cared, and everyone here at Arkansas Tech does!”

In response to that terrible tragedy the UCA administration, led by then interim President Tom Courtway, along with Chief James, members of the UCA faculty and staff, the UCA Student Government Association, with input from parents of UCA students, Arkansas Department of Information Systems and Conway community leaders, developed a comprehensive approach to emergency notification.  This effort led to the establishment of UCAAlert, an emergency notification system.

UCAAlert notifies UCA students, faculty and staff who have chosen to use this service of emergency situations on the UCA campus.  The system provides official information via text messages, voice messages and e-mails to those who are signed up for UCAAlert.  According to Captain Jeremy Crabb of the UCAPD, “While the main purpose of UCAAlert is to inform our community of any emergency or dangerous situation on campus, we also use the system to alert our students, faculty and staff about impending severe weather or campus closures.”

In order for the public to have easy access to emergency information at UCA, the UCAPD established a 24-hour telephone hotline that provides emergency information to callers.  According to the UCAPD Website, “UCA PD has established a 24 hour emergency information hotline. Call the Safe@UCA Info Line at (501) 852-INFO (4636) to hear a recorded message about the status of the University and any current alert or safety information. During emergency situations or closures the message will be updated periodically.”

According to a UCAPD document, “A comprehensive effort to add emergency notification capabilities to the University was launched in 2008 and was completed prior to fall of 2009.  This has been a considerable challenge given the other initiatives being undertaken by the police department.  The CommCenter now has an array of means and methods to disseminate information to the campus community during an emergency.”

During the academic year 2010-2011, the UCAPD established and implemented several safety and crime prevention programs.  According to a UCAPD document, “Each fall will begin with National Campus Safety Awareness Month in September and continue throughout the year to address issues that are relevant to our students, faculty and staff.  To achieve this, the UCAPD looks for opportunities to partner with organizations and departments across campus.  These collaborative efforts drive the programs that are continually assessed and adjusted to meet the needs of the campus community.”

The following programs are part of the Safe@UCA initiative:

  • National Campus Safety Awareness Month – Focuses on active shooter training, sexual assault awareness, self-defense, alcohol and drug awareness, and safety and theft awareness.
  • Brake for Bears! –  Focuses on crosswalk safety.
  • Operation Gotcha! – Focuses on theft prevention.
  • Operation ID – Focuses on theft prevention.
  • Operation Safe Walk – Focuses on identifying safety hazards on campus.
  • Safe Spring Break – Focuses on responsible decision-making regarding alcohol, distracted driving, sun safety, water safety, and to prevent or reduce the risks involved in the college Spring Break experience.

The UCAPD currently consists of 26 full-time officers, 8 full-time emergency communications specialists, 2 part-time dispatchers and 2 administrative support personnel.  The senior staff includes Chief Larry James; Major John Merguie – Operations Commander; Captain Justin Tapley – Commander, Professional Standards & Accreditation; Captain Chris Bentley – Commander, Administrative Services; Captain Jeremy Crabb – Commander, Operations Support and Mr. Arch Jones Jr., – Director of Organizational and Community Services.

During calendar year 2011, the UCAPD compiled the following statistics.

  • Investigated 756 criminal and 434 non-criminal incidents.
  • Responded to 116 noise and civil disturbances and 825 fire, intrusion and energy management alarms.
  • UCA Police officers made 376 criminal and warrant arrests.
  • Initiated 2,523 traffic enforcement stops.
  • Assisted 1,389 stranded motorists.
  • Issued 760 municipal and county citations.
  • Distributed 11,200 parking permits.

Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, The Scroll, ASTC, SCA and UCA Bulletins, UCA Archives – M99-01 – Official Records of UCA collection, UCA Institutional Research, Russell Mills, James Ed Smith, Billy Leach, Minutes of the UCA Board of Trustees, “A History of Arkansas State Teachers College” by Ted Worley and “The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas” by Jimmy Bryant.