Faulkner County officials will not lift the speed-trap sanctions that were placed against Damascus police a year ago.
"First, the extent of the abuse of police power discourages me from removing the sanctions," 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson wrote in a letter to small-town City Attorney Beau Wilcox on Wednesday. "As demonstrated by the original findings from May 2017, no reasonable method of calculating revenue would result in a finding that Damascus was not clearly a speed trap according to the relevant statue."
Ferguson's letter is in response to a request Wilcox made earlier this month to have the sanctions placed against the Damascus Police Department lifted.
The city was found in violation of the state's speed trap laws last year and was ordered to cease patrol of all highways. Former prosecuting attorney Cody Hiland found in February 2017 that Damascus was, in fact, in violation of the Arkansas speed trap statue because the city's revenues from fines exceeded 30 percent of the city's expenditures for each of the two previous years.
Wilcox had proposed that city officials be held to stricter auditing scrutiny in return that the sanctions be lifted, citing past concerns about the Damascus Police Department's alleged abuse of police power in generating high revenues for the city though traffic fines. The small-town city attorney also said Damascus officials have eliminated the city's police chief position and will continue to leave decisions that would be made by a police chief up to the mayor.
Keeping in mind that Damascus is home to 382 residents, Ferguson said he would not lift the sanctions and that the personnel history cited in Wilcox's earlier letter "underscores the [department's] abuse."
"With a population of only 382, Damascus employed up to eight full-time and part-time police officers," Ferguson's letter reads in part. "To compare to two other small cities also located on Highway 65 in the Twentieth Judicial District, Clinton has a population of 2,602 and employs seven full-time and two part-time officers, and Marshall has a population of 1,355 and employs three full-time officers and one part-time officer. The police force in Damascus and their policing activity were extremely disproportionate to the reasonable public safety needs of the city."
Ferguson said the city's "proven lack of oversight" also played a role in him denying the city's recent request.
"I recently reviewed an investigative file from the Arkansas State Police related to alleged criminal acts committed by the former police chief ... [which] showed an inability of the mayor and/or the city council to supervise the chief," he wrote. "Because the city's proposal relies on the mayor's ability to manage the affairs of the police, my concerns remain that the abuse of police power will continue without a chief and even with a reduced number of officers."
With the summer season approaching, Wilcox argued that the city’s police department needs its rights reinstated so that it could properly monitor the city’s increased traffic flow. Wilcox noted officials are working toward installing a traffic light at the intersections of highways 65 and 124, noting the traffic light would also help to regulate traffic and that County Judge Jim Baker has requested funding from the Arkansas State Highway Department to make this improvement possible.
Ferguson said public safety is "a top priority" for his office. No concerns for the public's safety have been raised since the sanctions were placed against the city; therefore, due to the previously mentioned issues within the city, Ferguson said Wednesday that the sanctions will remain in place.