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From the UCA Archives XLV

Brief History of the UCA Police Department:

By

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.”


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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.