UCA Archivist

Billy Leach retired in September 1992 after serving 20 years as the Director of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Public Safety.  His successor was Larry James, who had served as the director of the Portland Community College District Department of Public Safety in Oregon, and prior to that as the Deputy Chief of the San Jose State University Police Department in California.

According to a Sept. 1, 1993, Echo article, Chief James announced he would implement a five-point program at UCA.  The five points were:

• Increase the accessibility of the University Police to the Campus Community.

• A friendly parking program that provides assistance to drivers who need a jump start or help in getting keys out of their locked car.

• Emergency planning for potential disasters.

• A plan to improve the overall image of the University Police.

• Improve the accessibility of the student body to the University Police to help resolve problems.

Chief James stated in an interview with this author in May 2007, that all five points of his

1993 program had been met.  Several students, faculty and staff members this author spoke with agreed with his assessment.

Soon after taking command, Chief James recommended to the UCA administration that the Department of Public Safety be renamed the University of Central Arkansas Police Department.  Justifications for the proposed name change were listed in a memo dated Sept. 27, 1993, to Dr. James Dombek, vice president of administration.  Some of the points made in the memo were: 

• Police presence, visibility and identity are critical factors in deterring patrol-preventable crime and enhancing the perception of safety and security.

• The “University Police” logo now used on UCA police vehicles and our recent change to a traditional police uniform has substantially benefited our officers’ ability to enforce the law, gain compliance and acceptance, de-escalate situations, and deter crime.

• The term “University Police” is already being used by some constituents on and off campus to reference the Department of Public Safety. In a recent meeting with more than 50 UCA Housing staff and resident assistants, the proposed name change received overwhelming support.

• Many members of the UCA community and the general public remain unaware of the authority of our officers as sworn police officers.  This often results in non-compliance with officer’s requests and needlessly impairs our officers when interceding in field situations or enforcing laws and University regulations.

• The majority of other Arkansas universities have adopted the reference “University Police” which is evidence of its acceptance within the state.

Dr. Dombek wrote a memo dated Oct. 7, 1993, to President Winfred Thompson that was supportive of Chief James’ request.  His recommendation was approved and in the fall of 1993 the Department of Public Safety became the University of Central Arkansas Police Department (UCAPD). 

A description of the UCAPD, its purpose and how it is of benefit to the UCA community and the general public can be found on the UCAPD website, (  According to the UCAPD website, “The UCA Police Department is the law enforcement agency with primary jurisdiction on all university owned, controlled, or leased properties. UCA Police Officers are trained law enforcement professionals and are certified law enforcement officers by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.”

When Chief James assumed command of the UCAPD in 1993, he brought with him the concept of community oriented policing.  The UCAPD website states, “The UCA Police Department practices the philosophy of community oriented policing. The police department’s relationships with members of the community are invaluable and are one of the most important tools used by the UCA Police Department to accomplish its primary mission which is to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment and create a feeling of safety and security for UCA students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

In an effort to hire only the best people to fill its officer ranks, Chief James instituted a thorough and painstaking selection process, which included a battery of tests.  Failure on any of the following tests could remove the applicant from consideration for employment as a UCA Police Officer.

• Pass a written examination.

• Pass a physical endurance test.

• Appear before a panel of officers for an interview.

• Pass a background check.

• Submit to a command oral interview with Chief James and Major John Merguie.

• Pass a psychological examination.

• Pass a physical examination.

• Attend an Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy for 12 weeks.

• Work with four different Field Training Officers for 90 days.

After being selected for the position the successful applicant is on probation for one year from the date of hire.  When asked why the hiring process was so demanding, Chief James stated, “The rigorous hiring process was so designed to make sure the right person is hired for the position.” 

Proper training is one of the keys to fielding a professional police force and Chief James, along with his command staff, has placed an emphasis on training to keep the UCA Police Department operating at peak proficiency.

According to the 2010-2011 UCAPD Annual Report, its officers accrued over 4,500 hours of training during the 2010-2011 academic year.  

A list of those training classes include Firearms; Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED); Basic Sign Language; Crime Victim Services; Drug Recognition Expert; Field Training Officer; Standardized Field Sobriety and many other classes.

The UCAPD continues to make progress and stay up-to-date in its training, equipment and methods of operation.

In 2007, the UCAPD upgraded its 911 equipment.  The new equipment allows the UCAPD’s CommCenter to operate as a primary public safety answering point in the 911 system for all 911 calls originating from the UCA campus or university owned/controlled properties.  The CommCenter is the UCAPD Communication Center, from where all activity of the department is coordinated.   

Prior to the 2007 upgrade, all 911 calls went to the City of Conway and were then transferred to UCA.  Now, the 911 caller can have immediate access to the UCAPD which can save critical seconds during an emergency situation.  At present, the UCAPD serves as the backup to the City of Conway and Faulkner County 911 services.  

After the tragedy at Virginia Tech University, Chief James developed a plan to deal with similar situations should they occur at UCA.  Patrol officers were equipped with patrol rifles and were required to attend comprehensive training courses in immediate action rapid deployment.

According to documents from the UCAPD, “UCA officers were trained in immediate action rapid deployment protocols that provide field officers, as the first responders, with the tools and techniques necessary to act and minimize casualties in such situations.”

On Oct. 26, 2008, the UCA community suffered an unprecedented tragedy.  Two UCA students, Chavares Block, 19, and Ryan Henderson, 18, were gunned down and killed while standing outside Arkansas Hall, a UCA residence hall.  The two innocent victims were shot by non-students who were firing from an SUV.  The four men in the SUV pleaded guilty, were sentenced and are now serving time with the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Word of the tragedy spread quickly and soon the UCA shooting made national news headlines.  An outpouring of sympathy resulted and letters and cards from around the nation soon began arriving at UCA.  Some of those expressing sympathy were the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas Tech University and Northern Illinois University. 

The students at Northern Illinois University created a banner, made of heavy cloth material, that was approximately six feet long and three feet wide and covered in words of sympathy and encouragement from NIU students.

NIU had been the scene of a murderous rampage on Feb. 14, 2008, when a gunman killed six people (himself included) and injured 16 with gunfire from a shotgun and three handguns.  Some of the comments from NIU students included, “Huskies feel your pain.  You are in our thoughts;”  “We know what you’re going through.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you;”  “I’m sorry that this is how we have become united, but we’re here for you;” and, “Huskies give UCA Bear hugs.”  

The University of Washington Graduate and Professional Student Senate observed a moment of silence for UCA’s Chavares Block and Ryan Henderson as well as for one of their own students who was gunned down in 2007, Rebecca Jane Griego.  The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Student Government Association also held a moment of silence for Chavares Block and Ryan Henderson at one of their meetings.  The university that sent the most letters of sympathy was UCA’s oldest rival, Arkansas Tech University (ATU).

One of the letters from an ATU student that was typical of the content and tone of most of the letters received from ATU, stated in part, “The event that happened last night at UCA has shaken everyone up here at Arkansas Tech University.  We want to do anything we can to help you all.  This event could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t, it happened to UCA.  The only things you can do in times like these are look to God and pray for his help.  We are all praying for you. If this had happened to Arkansas Tech I would hope that I knew someone cared, and everyone here at Arkansas Tech does!”        

In response to that terrible tragedy the UCA administration, led by then interim President Tom Courtway, along with Chief James, members of the UCA faculty and staff, the UCA Student Government Association, with input from parents of UCA students, Arkansas Department of Information Systems and Conway community leaders, developed a comprehensive approach to emergency notification.  This effort led to the establishment of UCAAlert, an emergency notification system.

UCAAlert notifies UCA students, faculty and staff who have chosen to use this service of emergency situations on the UCA campus.  The system provides official information via text messages, voice messages and e-mails to those who are signed up for UCAAlert.  According to Captain Jeremy Crabb of the UCAPD, “While the main purpose of UCAAlert is to inform our community of any emergency or dangerous situation on campus, we also use the system to alert our students, faculty and staff about impending severe weather or campus closures.” 

In order for the public to have easy access to emergency information at UCA, the UCAPD established a 24-hour telephone hotline that provides emergency information to callers.  According to the UCAPD Website, “UCA PD has established a 24 hour emergency information hotline. Call the Safe@UCA Info Line at (501) 852-INFO (4636) to hear a recorded message about the status of the University and any current alert or safety information. During emergency situations or closures the message will be updated periodically.”    

According to a UCAPD document, “A comprehensive effort to add emergency notification capabilities to the University was launched in 2008 and was completed prior to fall of 2009.  This has been a considerable challenge given the other initiatives being undertaken by the police department.  The CommCenter now has an array of means and methods to disseminate information to the campus community during an emergency.”

During the academic year 2010-2011, the UCAPD established and implemented several safety and crime prevention programs.  According to a UCAPD document, “Each fall will begin with National Campus Safety Awareness Month in September and continue throughout the year to address issues that are relevant to our students, faculty and staff.  To achieve this, the UCAPD looks for opportunities to partner with organizations and departments across campus.  These collaborative efforts drive the programs that are continually assessed and adjusted to meet the needs of the campus community.”

The following programs are part of the Safe@UCA initiative:

• National Campus Safety Awareness Month – Focuses on active shooter training, sexual assault awareness, self-defense, alcohol and drug awareness, and safety and theft awareness.

• Brake for Bears! -  Focuses on crosswalk safety.

• Operation Gotcha! – Focuses on theft prevention.

• Operation ID – Focuses on theft prevention.

• Operation Safe Walk – Focuses on identifying safety hazards on campus.

• Safe Spring Break – Focuses on responsible decision-making regarding alcohol, distracted driving, sun safety, water safety, and to prevent or reduce the risks involved in the college Spring Break experience. 

The UCAPD currently consists of 26 full-time officers, 8 full-time emergency communications specialists, 2 part-time dispatchers and 2 administrative support personnel.

The senior staff includes Chief Larry James; Major John Merguie, Operations Commander; Captain Justin Tapley, Commander, Professional Standards & Accreditation; Captain Chris Bentley, Commander, Administrative Services; Captain Jeremy Crabb,  Commander, Operations Support and Arch Jones Jr., Director of Organizational and Community Services. 

During calendar year 2011, the UCAPD compiled the following statistics. 

• Investigated 756 criminal and 434 non-criminal incidents.

• Responded to 116 noise and civil disturbances and 825 fire, intrusion and energy management alarms.

• UCA Police officers made 376 criminal and warrant arrests.

• Initiated 2,523 traffic enforcement stops.

• Assisted 1,389 stranded motorists.

• Issued 760 municipal and county citations.

• Distributed 11,200 parking permits.

Author’s Note:  Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, The New York Times, Chief Larry James and the command staff of the University of Central Arkansas Police Department, UCA Archives – M08-09 – Block and Henderson collection, the University of Central Arkansas Police Department website -, Arkansas Tech University, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Northern Illinois University.