Editor's Note: The following are unedited responses from Miller County Sheriff candidates Wayne Easley, Mark Lewis and Stephen Ward. Each candidate was allowed a total of 500 words to distribute as they saw fit among their responses to the same five questions. The primary election is May 24.
What makes you a good candidate for Miller County Sheriff?
Wayne Easley: I was born and raised in Miller County. My wife (of 29+ years) and I have raised a family with strong Christian values in Miller County. I'm deeply rooted in this community and have grown even more so through the years.
My working career began in the private sector running a successful business. I left the private sector to pursue God's calling, beginning my law enforcement career at the Bowie County Jail and quickly working my way up to become the supervisor of the Special Response Team. While there, I completed the Texas Law Enforcement Academy and went to work as a deputy for the Bowie County Sheriff's Office. In 2001, I received an opportunity to work for the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department. There I served as a patrol officer, handling countless calls for service. In 2008, I was promoted to detective and began working crimes against children, also becoming a hostage negotiator. In 2016, I moved to crimes against persons--where I dealt with adult violent crimes, homicides, aggravated robberies, sexual assaults, and a plethora of other offenses.
Mark Lewis: For 30 years, I served as an Officer, Supervisor or Commander of all TAPD operational divisions including Metro SWAT. I had the opportunity to teach law enforcement officers through the U of A. I built and influenced teams of personnel. I've had the honor of serving the Citizens of Miller County for the last 4 years. I successfully managed the 7-million-dollar MCSO/MCDC budget. I've worked with the City and County to expand our relationships. I believe my professional experiences uniquely qualify me to serve as Sheriff.
Stephen Ward: I'm a lifelong resident of Miller County. I'm familiar with its logistics, infrastructure, terrain and people. I've established relationships and partnerships within our county, as well as surrounding counties. Being Sheriff will not be an after retirement job for me. For over fourteen years, I've been committed to the citizens of Miller County. I've worked under the supervision of three very different Sheriff's, who leadership styles have inspired and molded me. I want to continue to invest in our communities by sharing my knowledge, experience and dedication. If you need me, my cell number is (903) 824-7265 and It won't change.
What would be your top priorities if elected?
Easley: If elected, my top priorities are aligned with some of the biggest problems that our region is facing. While campaigning, citizens have voiced concerns about rampant drugs in the community, theft, and lack of deputy presence in all of our schools.
Lewis: You'll not see unrealistic goals or objectives from me. I believe in providing professional, responsive services to the Citizens. I've worked for four years to improve the responsiveness of our personnel to the Citizens. We've improved training, equipment, infrastructure, and our level of professionalism. My COMMITMENT is to continue that trend. I'm committed to conducting investigations and arresting those who violate State Law. I'm committed to proactive patrol and investigations. Our clearance rate is twice the regional average. We've managed the 3.6-million-dollar jail so that it results in no cost to the Citizens.
Ward: My top priorities if elected would be increasing trust and transparency, being fiscally responsible, seeking grants, donors and volunteers, making our jail safer and more efficient, reducing recidivism, training deputies and staff, improving security of the Sheriffs Office, restoring and increasing employee moral, citizen involvement, greater patrol visibility and increasing solvability rates on misdemeanor crimes by having our Criminal Investigators work misdemeanor cases as well as felonies.
What are some of the biggest problems in our region that you plan to address if elected?
Easley: Upon taking office, I will take a proactive stance against all crime in the county. I will move the Miller County Sheriff's Office from having a reactive mindset to being a proactive team that targets drugs, theft, and other crimes occurring in the county. I will establish relationships in ALL school districts to ensure that our children are protected.
Lewis: We are fortunate to enjoy the support of the Citizens. One doesn't have to drive far to enter jurisdictions that have lost that support. We've got to remain diligent in our interaction with our community. We've got to be responsive to their needs and work to be problem solvers. Property Crimes, Narcotics Crimes, and MCDC have the most immediate potential to negatively affect our Citizens.
Ward: One of the biggest problem we have in our region is Illegal drugs, drug usage and drug related crimes. As Sheriff, I will focus my efforts and work tirelessly to clean up our county. I will create High Intensity Targets to push back on those who attempt to deal, distribute, consume and steal.
What are your plans for the Miller County jail?
Easley: My plan in reference to the Miller County Jail is to ensure the safety of the citizens of Miller County. As Sheriff, housing local prisoners will take precedence over the housing of prisoners who are not from this area.
Lewis: The Miller County Detention Center budget is 3.6 million dollars. We have a capacity of 285, and our average population is 320. The Citizens have not expended any General Fund Monies to support the Detention Center for 4 years. We house the prisoners in a safe and secure environment. We've worked to expand our facility by 60 beds. That will bring our capacity up to 345. That project is underway and is being funded with Federal dollars. That means the expansion is not expected to cost Miller County residents one dollar.
Ward: I will create a Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program (RSAT) in the jail to help those who change and want free from addiction. We must focus on programs which break the cycle of recidivism. I'm will be tough on crime and hard on criminals, but I will provide opportunities for those who truly are willing to change. Building bigger jails does not address societal problems such as drug addiction and mental illness. I will seek out solutions to place those individuals where they can get assistance, thereby freeing up space for criminals.
What are your thoughts on the county's 911 service moving to the Bi-State Justice Center?
Easley: Lastly, my thoughts on the Miller County 911 service moving to the Bi-State is that it would create a great financial burden on Miller County. I believe that Miller County will be better served maintaining the current 911 service. I would work jointly with the Miller County Quorum Court to assist in making sure the residents of Miller County receive quality 911 service.
In summation, my work has given me the understanding of how to best serve individuals faced with traumatic events. It has taught me to extend empathy. My life experience, my law enforcement career, and my desire to serve the citizens of Miller County make me the best choice as your next Miller County Sheriff. If you are looking for a Sheriff who will be out in the community, leading from the front--a Sheriff who will make time to talk to you about your concerns and who will hold those who work for the Sheriff's Office accountable--vote for Wayne Easley.
You won't regret keeping Miller County a great place to plant your roots.
Lewis: The Arkansas Legislature directed that a board be established to consider consolidation of Public Safety Answering Points. Arkansas has 75 counties, and there were approximately 130 PSAP's. A PSAP is where 911 calls go and calls for service to deputies originate. TAPD is a member of the ArTX Council of Governments and utilizes a Texas PSAP at the Bi-State. The State distributes 200 thousand dollars per year to fund our PSAP, which costs 400 thousand dollars per year to operate. The State distributes 400 thousand dollars per year to TAPD which they use to subsidize their 1-million-dollar commitment to the Bi-State. If Miller County were to consolidate with the Bi-State, our annual cost would go from 200 thousand dollars to 800 thousand dollars per year. We would be required to pay ¼ of the 4-million- dollar budget for Bi-State. I have attended meetings with the 911 Board. I don't believe it is in the best interest of Miller County to consolidate with the Bi-State because it is not economically feasible. I have recommended that the Board continue to approve the support of the Miller County Center.
Ward: I believe that would be a tremendous disservice to our citizens and would create a financial burden on the county, which we can not afford.