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WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – Two police agencies are at odds over who should take responsibility for inmates’ medical care and the tension is palpable.
The disagreement at hand is between Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and Walnut Ridge Police Department. The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Tony Waldrupe told NEA Report there had “been a question as far as the sheriff’s department’s part and the arresting agency’s part” of the responsibility for care of the inmate. The Walnut Ridge Police Chief, Chris Kirksey, confirms this as the source of the disagreement.
However, because of this, a policy by the sheriff’s department has been implemented which Kirksey said puts his officers at risk. The policy states Walnut Ridge officers – by name – are to have approval from the jail administrator, the sheriff or Waldrupe before doors are allowed to be opened and any inmates accepted from them.
“The thought of my officers getting hurt because we’re sitting there making phone calls because the jail won’t open the door, seems like to me that’s an issue,” Kirksey said.
Kirksey and Waldrupe had the discussion which led to the disagreement in question Monday morning. Kirksey said Waldrupe called him about an inmate who needed to be screened, brought in by Walnut Ridge PD.
“I told the Chief Deputy it was the county’s responsibility to take the guy down there,” Kirksey said.
Waldrupe disagreed, Kirksey said, so the chief offered to confirm the procedure was correct with the city prosecutor.
“At the end here, he said ‘Well here’s the thing: the city prosecutor doesn’t run the jail,'” Kirksey said. “I said it was about clarifying the law.”
“‘Well, I tell you it’s going to happen,'” Kirksey recalled being told Monday morning. “‘From now on, whenever a Walnut Ridge officer pulls up on the sally port with a prisoner, the door will be closed and will not be opened up until a supervisor calls the jail and let them know what the charges are.'”
Afterward, this new policy was posted at the jail entrance:
Kirksey said it is a safety issue, because officers may have a combative subject in the car trying to kick the windows out while the officer is trying to call the sheriff or chief deputy.
However, Waldrupe described it as a lack of understanding between the two agencies.
“There’s not been a good understanding with the type of inmates were allowed to bring in, as far as whether they need medical treatment, mental health treatment, or something like that,” Waldrupe said. “We’re just trying to make sure we’re fully aware of what the jail’s responsibilities are and what the arresting agencies responsibilities are before they bring them into the jail.”
Waldrupe said there had been some issues but he declined to go into detail about them. Waldrupe and Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Yates are in Little Rock for a conference, but Waldrupe said they are also meeting with the Association of Arkansas Counties to “find out what we’re allowed to do, legally, before making policies.”
NEA Report could not reach Yates for comment.
“Once they’re in the door, some of the agencies believe it’s the jail’s responsibility,” Waldrupe said. “Speaking with other jail administrators and sheriffs, there’s policies they have that prevent that from being put on the jail. Before we develop a new jail policy, we want to make sure we’re doing it to where it’s in the best interest of the cities, the agencies, and the counties.”
But for the Walnut Ridge police chief’s part, he feels like a policy change has already happened and even though he said he believes the two sides will reach an agreement, until then, his department is being unfairly singled out.
“There’s Ravenden, Black Rock, Hoxie (police departments), and while we’re trying to get a hold of the sheriff, they can pull up and walk right in. That’s basically what the sign says,” Kirksey said.