The Conway Police Department’s most recently hired officers graduated from the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy last week. Three of the four new officers are women.

Chief A.J. Gary said the new hires were the most qualified ones for the job. He explained applicants have to take written and physical exams, and they have to score high enough to get to the top of a certified list to be considered for employment. Officers Yolanda Wheeler, Katie Riegel, Mike Fuentes and Karen Watts were at the top of the list.

"We have be on a move since I started as chief here in 2007 to ensure we have a diverse department," Gary said. "We have more minority officers than ever before and probably more female officers than ever before. We started a few years back on an effort to increase diversity among personnel, sworn and non-sworn, and I think we’ve done a real good job of that."

Watts was also recognized by the academy for placing first in academics with an average score of 98.18 percent. The average score of the class was 91.23 percent.

Gary said the Conway Police Department hires officers just a week or two before they go to the academy and does not allow them to work the streets until they have completed their training, although state law does not prohibit new officers from doing so.

"Now that they’ve graduated from law enforcement academy, they will ride with a field training officer for the next 12 weeks and they will continue their learning process," he said. "Once they finish with the field training officer they will start working in a vehicle by themselves."

He said the officers will also attend some in-house classes regarding policies and department requirements that are beyond the state requirements.

"They’ll learn crime scene processing and things of that nature. They’ll continue their training process through the next few months," he said.

He said the department has just made a conditional offer of employment to four more officers who will go to the law enforcement academy in September. He said testing will be held again Sept. 3, and anyone who is interested may go to the department’s website and preregister.

Gary noted the four new officers and the four to whom the department has made a conditional offer are not newly added positions at the police department but rather hires made to fill vacancies from officers who have either retired or taken employment elsewhere.

The Conway Police Department has 117 sworn positions. Eight of those are assigned as school resource officers, and the school district pays part of their salaries. One is assigned to the Conway Housing Authority, and that salary is partially paid by the Conway Housing Authority.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at