The Sentinel-Record

Police department moves closer to full staffing

- DAVID SHOWERS The Sentinel-Record

Five applicants who have accepted job offers from the Hot Springs Police Department left one vacancy among the 115 uniformed positions in the department’s $16.81 million budget.

Interim Police Chief Billy Hrvatin told the Civil Service Commission Wednesday that five of the seven finalists from the most recent special testing period were offered jobs and all five accepted. The department has struggled to reach full staffing. As many as a dozen positions were unfilled at one point last year.

“I’m actually pleased to get five,” Hrvatin told the commission. “We all know hiring and retention is very difficult these days in law enforcemen­t.”

Five additional uniformed positions partially funded by the Community Oriented Policing Services grant the department won in 2021 were included in last year and this year’s police fund budgets. The U.S. Department of Justice grant will pay 75% of five new officers’ salary and benefits for three years. The city will be responsibl­e for fully funding the positions for at least one year after the grant ends.

The new hires will backfill veteran officers transferre­d to the Community Policing Response Team the department formed last month.

Hrvatin said two rookie officers hired last year are scheduled to graduate next month from the Arkansas Law Enforcemen­t Training Academy. Four rookies are scheduled to complete field training by the end of the month. A fifth completed the 14-week program ahead of schedule.

“He was a certified officer when we hired him,” Hrvatin told the commission. “We kind of fast-tracked him because he did so well and had a lot of law enforcemen­t experience. He was ahead of the game.”

The city pays a $5,000 bonus to certified officers after a probationa­ry period. The starting salary is $44,490.

The five new hires exhausted the commission’s eligible list of applicants. It approved Hrvatin’s request for a May 6 special testing session.

State code allows civil service commission­s to conduct tests on the first Monday in April and October or according to rules prescribed by the commission. The Hot Springs commission adopted a local rule last March that allows it to conduct tests and interviews when it depletes its eligibilit­y list.

Written and physical tests account for 40% of an applicant’s ranking on the eligibilit­y list. A score of one to 25 the commission assigns after interviews accounts for 60%.

“I really want to get fully staffed,” Hrvatin told the commission. “We haven’t been fully staffed in quite some time. We’re close now.”

The commission oversees the hiring and promotion of officers through the written tests and interviews it administer­s. The top three candidates it identifies are eligible for hire, but the commission won’t be directly involved in the hiring of the new police chief.

State code exempts department heads from the civil service process, making the selection of the city’s new chief the prerogativ­e of City Manager Bill Burrough. He included Commission Chairman Sam Stathakis on the committee he formed to review the 12 applicants.

Hrvatin and Capt. Jeff Michau were among the three finalists Burrough named. They and Capt. Dustin Ivey of the Maumelle Police Department will be interviewe­d later this month. Burrough named Hrvatin interim chief Jan. 21.

Hrvatin discussed the following items in his monthly report to the commission:

• A recent arrest may stem the rise in property crimes reported by the department. The 48 breaking and entering offenses reported through February represente­d a fivefold increase compared to the first two months of last year and a 55% increase compared to 2021.

The 30 burglaries compared to 20 last year and 11 in 2021.

“I’m happy to say we arrested an individual the other day who we believe is responsibl­e for a lot of that,” Hrvatin told the commission.

He said the man was arrested on 10 counts of breaking or entering, nine counts of criminal mischief and three counts of theft. A warrant for the arrest of an alleged co-conspirato­r has been issued.

“Hopefully we’ll have the second person in custody soon,” Hrvatin said.

• The newly formed Community Response Team saw its first action last month.

“They’ve made several notable arrests — drug arrests, gun arrests, picking up a lot of people on felony warrants,” Hrvatin said.

He told commission­ers last month that community feedback will inform how and where the five-officer unit gets deployed. It’s not assigned to a specific geographic area and has multiple roles. Its activities will be included in next month’s report.

“I expect big things out of them, and I think my expectatio­ns will be met,” Hrvatin said. “There’s some really good young guys there who are go-getters.”

• Members of the department’s SWAT team participat­ed in last month’s Polar Plunge 2023. They jumped into the pool at Hot Springs Health and Fitness to raise money for Special Olympics Arkansas. The city said the department raised $2,000.

• Officer 1st Class Omar Cervantes was recognized as the department’s officer of the quarter.

“He does a lot of good work in the community,” Hrvatin told the commission. “We’re really proud of him.”

• The department chose Spike as the name for its new K-9 officer. He owes his name to the spiked hair on his head, but Hrvatin had another name in mind.

“I thought Mohawk was more appropriat­e, but I let them have Spike,” he said.

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