Hughes Police Chief tells council city needs to overcome racial problems

A little more than a month on the job was almost enough for Hughes Police Chief A.J. Christian on Monday when he turned in his resignation before later deciding to remain on the job.

Christian opened Monday's council meeting by explaining how the department, which began operation last month, is set up. According to Christian, the department currently has nine officers, himself, three full-time officers, four auxiliary officers and a dispatcher. Christian said that since the department re-opened, his primary concern has been with his officers and managing a good department for the city of Hughes.

"I just told you how many officers you have working for you, and I included myself in those nine officers, but I'm really more of a manager than anything else. That said, that doesn't mean I leave this job at 4 or 5 o'clock every evening and leave the city behind. I'm here for 12, sometimes 14 hours, and even when I'm at home I'm concerned about my people out there working and about the people here in Hughes," said Christian.

This is Christian's second stint as chief in Hughes where he worked in 2007, prior to the sheriff's department contracting with the city for services. Christian said he returned to Hughes last month because he loved the community, but said the community is currently too racially divided.

"I came back, not because of money but because I like this community and the people here, but right now you have a problem. This town is too racially divided, too polarized and it makes it difficult for me and my people to do our job. We have received some complaints as a department, and if someone sees us doing something wrong, report us, but we've had people nitpicking everything we do. What this community needs to do is get together the blacks and the whites, work out your differences, and then move forward together. Until you do, you will continue to have problems," said Christian.

He then tendered his resignation, at which time Hughes Mayor Lawrence Owens requested a 10-minute recess in order to discuss the situation with Christian. Following the recess, Owens told the council that Christian had agreed to continue serving as chief.

"I think it was Frederick Douglass who said 'Without struggle there can be no progress.' One of the things we have to learn how to do is deal with situations one on one. Someone had to teach me that when I became mayor. You have to look beyond yourself and see your destination and determine what your focus is," said Owens. "I'm here because I want to be and so is this council. Money doesn't drive me, and I know that it isn't a driving force behind the council. This is something they do as a public service. We are going to progress in Hughes and move forward."

In his report, Christian told the council that there had been a shooting during the July Fourth holiday weekend and that officers had also recovered a firearm.

Councilman Jesse White said he had heard nothing but positive comments regarding the new department. "I've been hearing some positive things about what they've been doing. The people in my community have said more positive things than negative things. I've heard people from out of town say that things are better than they were. Anything can stand improvement, but they haven't been here long enough to make too many changes and improvements, and I think they've done a pretty good job," he said.

Councilman John Tate asked if there had been any issues with the county jail holding prisoners for Hughes. Christian said there had been no issues with the county. He said officers try to work with many residents on minor charges, working to issue a citation rather than take them into custody because of several issues.

"Let's say we have someone for disorderly conduct. If we take them to Forrest City, that's 25 miles one way, your officer is out of service for about two hours, and there goes the whole police force exhausted. If we write them a ticket and give them a court date, they can just come and pay the fine. If they don't come to court, then a warrant is issued," said Christian.

In other business, the council agreed to table discussion of possible changes in rules at the Hughes Community Center until they can determine state law regarding serving alcohol at public facilities. Owens presented a rate change to the council that would have increased the rates from $75 to $100 for renting the center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from $150 to $200 for renting the center from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., which he said was suggested during a meeting last month, but the council elected to keep the current rates. Council members Rudolph Robinson, Thomas Campbell and John Tate all said they felt no alcohol should be allowed on the premises.

White responded, "I think y'all might be beating a dead horse if you think people are going to come out here for a family reunion or birthday party and not drink. Whether we allow it or not, they're going to have it in their car or sneak it in, but they're going to have it," said White.

Owens agreed to contact the Municipal League and other cities in the area to review their policies.

The council voted to replace the city's mosquito spraying machine and purchase new chemicals. According to information provided by Owens, the new machine will cost $8,616.92 and the chemicals will cost $3,000.

Owens also presented council members with a letter from Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department District Engineer Ray Woodruff authorizing the city to mow grass along Hwy. 79.

Owens also submitted a bid for work at city hall totaling $5,400 from Jimmy King of Forrest City and asked council members if they knew of local contractors who might wish to bid on the project to build a partition and perform other construction work.

The council also unanimously approved a request to allow the fire department to repair a truck. According to Fire Chief Greg Prestage, estimates for the repairs total $4,400. The council also authorized Prestage to purchase refreshments for an open house at the Hughes Fire Department, which is scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Prestage also told the council the department will host a boater safety program on July 18 and 19.

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