Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck has decided to step down after what will be eight years as sheriff and 35 years in law enforcement.
He made the news public on Friday (Jan. 12) in a Facebook post.
“It’s been my greatest honor to be your Sebastian County Sheriff. Few people have had such an awesome opportunity to lead what I feel is the best law enforcement agency in our state,” he noted in the introduction. “To have the chance to be the leader of what I consider to be true heroes is definitely a dream come true. The time however has come to turn the page and I look forward to the next chapter in my life as I will not be seeking re-election. I thank you all for entrusting me as your Sheriff and I hope I have made you proud of your Sheriff’s Department.”
Hollenbeck, 56, whose second four-year term concludes at the end of 2018, told Talk Business & Politics he is not sure what he will do next.
“It could be law enforcement in the private sector, or some other public position. … I don’t want to rule anything out, at all. This decision is so new, I want to take time to absorb it myself. I still have all year to go, and we [Sheriff’s Department] still have challenges to face and so I want to continue on with those,” Hollenbeck said.
For the past eight years Hollenbeck has been the lone Democrat among Sebastian County’s top elected officials, presiding over a department with 183 employees. When first elected, the county jail was under federal oversight. Hollenbeck cited jail improvements and removal of the oversight as one of his highlights so far.
“What I’m most proud of is that our staff agreed to the vision of our department turning to the next page of professionalism,” Hollenbeck said of early efforts to improve jail conditions.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Hollenbeck’s leadership will be missed in the county and the state.
“Sheriff Hollenbeck has been a visionary leader. His focus on public safety has been a tremendous asset to Sebastian County on a number of levels, including his tireless efforts in helping to make Crisis Stabilization Units a reality for the state. This decision comes as surprise, but I wish him the best of luck — and I know he will be missed,” Gov. Hutchinson noted in a statement sent to Talk Business & Politics.
Hollenbeck, whose father was a Navy and Army veteran who suffered serious wounds during combat in Korea, and whose mother is of Hispanic heritage, moved to Fort Smith during his fifth year of elementary school.
His parents were married at what was then Camp Chaffee when his father was transferred to the facility prior to the Korean War to help re-open what was once a large World War II training camp. Hollenbeck’s father served as a drill instructor prior to being shipped to Korea where he was shot six times during a battle.
Financially unable to finish college, Hollenbeck joined the Dallas (Texas) police force. He finished the Dallas police academy and was on the force in 1982. Part of his work in Dallas included SWAT experience, and he began providing SWAT training to Sebastian County deputies who worked for then Sebastian County Sheriff Gary Grimes.
Grimes offered Hollenbeck the chance to return home, and in 1990, Hollenbeck was back in Fort Smith. He worked in different departments, and in 2010 made a successful bid for sheriff – being the only Democrat elected to a county office in the 2010 general election cycle.
STRUGGLES, SHERIFF CANDIDATE POSSIBILITIES
Hollenbeck said the loss of two on-duty deputies during his tenure was a blow, but proved to him the resiliency of those who work in the department.
“As tragic and horrible as it was, our deputies still put their badge on over their chest the next day and came to work and fought through it and continued to serve the men and women of the public,” Hollenbeck said.
He also said another factor in his decision to leave is his belief that the department enjoys broad community support and respect.
“I certainly want to leave on a good note,” he said, adding later, “I just hope we lived up to the expectations of the citizens who entrusted me with this position.”
Hollenbeck also noted in his announcement that “two lifelong, veteran law enforcement officers” are considering a run for what will be an open seat. Hollenbeck did not say under which party affiliation they would seek the office. (A few hours after Hollenbeck’s news, Sebastian County Chief Deputy Hobe Runion announced he would run for the post as a Republican in the 2018 election. According to a KFSM 5 News report, Runion has been with the department since 2000, and began his law enforcement career in 1990 as a reserve patrolman in Barling.)
“Both officers have command and leadership experience in their respectable agencies. One also is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and has served as a Convoy Commander and has combat experience serving our nation. Sebastian County will be left in good hands with either of them. I’m sure you will hear from them soon,” Hollenbeck said in the statement.
Other accomplishments, according to Hollenbeck, is that the department has seen numerous technology upgrades, and is more involved in the community.
“The folks know that this is not my department, it’s their department.”
Following is the complete, unedited message from Hollenbeck on his decision to step down.
It’s been my greatest honor to be your Sebastian County Sheriff. Few people have had such an awesome opportunity to lead what I feel is the best law enforcement agency in our state. To have the chance to be the leader of what I consider to be true heroes is definitely a dream come true. The time however has come to turn the page and I look forward to the next chapter in my life as I will not be seeking re-election . I thank you all for entrusting me as your Sheriff and I hope I have made you proud of your Sheriff’s Department.
The position of Sheriff as you can imagine is extremely demanding and I could not have done it without the support and understanding of my wife Karen and my whole family. Thank you Karen. I love you and you have been my rock.
The men and women of the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Department are the most amazing individuals I’ve ever been around. The success that we have had in our department is a direct result of those deputies and Command Staff that has worked so hard for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week , on weekends and holidays. I thank you all. We all have worked hard together ,laughed together and cried together through good times and tragedies. But as always you continue to serve our community. I’m proud of you all.
I have spoken with two lifelong, veteran law enforcement officers who have been waiting in the wings to be allowed their chance to lead your Sheriff’s Department. Both officers have command and leadership experience in their respectable agencies. One also is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and has served as a Convoy Commander and has combat experience serving our nation. Sebastian County will be left in good hands with either of them. I’m sure you will hear from them soon.
I don’t know what God has planned for me but I will follow his lead whether it’s a leadership position in law enforcement, public service or the private sector. I embrace and look forward to my next challenge. We still have a year to go and as your Sheriff we have many challenges to overcome and more progress to make. I am excited about the future of our department.
I feel we have the best county government in Arkansas; we have the best cities the best citizens, and the best civic and business leaders in the state. You all have been so good to me and my family. I can not thank you all enough for the support that you have shown to our department and to me personally. I truly feel that if we continue to work together in our community in a positive way we can accomplish anything!