Fort Smith police chief candidates meet with public, city officials

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 821 views 

The three final candidates for the Fort Smith Police Chief went through rounds of panel interviews Monday (Sept. 16) as the search for a chief moved one step closer to an end.

Nathaniel Clark, the city’s first African American chief, announced March 27 he was leaving the post for another police job in the Atlanta area. Clark stepped into the Fort Smith chief police job on Jan. 7, 2017. Danny Baker, who is one of the three finalists, took over the interim role on April 8.

Baker joined the other two finalists — Andrew Harvey of Palestine, Texas, and Alice Fulk of Little Rock — for interviews with City Administrator Carl Geffken, other city department heads, community leaders and experts in the industry. They also met informally with the public and the members of the city’s board of directors at a public lunch.

Harvey has 23 years police experience. He serves as the police chief of the Palestine Police Department, a position he took August 2017. A native of the Texas Rio Grande Valley, he was employed by the Dallas Police Department from 1996 to 2017. While in that position, he rose to the rank of lieutenant. He also retired as a first sergeant in the U.S. Air National Guard.

Though Palestine is significantly smaller than Fort Smith with a population of just under 19,000, Harvey says his experience working with the Dallas Police Department would allow him to transition into the chief position in Fort Smith.

“My first 21 years I spent in Dallas, so I’m used to a big, urban, diverse city. I feel like I have the best of both worlds when it comes to experience. Big, small and medium size city — here’s what I know. It doesn’t matter if you are in Dallas or here, the citizens expect the same thing from the police department as anywhere else. That doesn’t change,” Harvey said.

Assistant Police Chief Alice Fulk is a 27-year veteran of the Little Rock Police Department. A native of Little Rock, she joined the city’s police department in 1992, becoming the city’s first female assistant police chief in 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a master’s degree in human resource management from Webster University. Fulk believes her 27 ½ years’ experience with the largest metropolitan police department in the state gives her a leg up on the competition.

“I have well-rounded experience. I’ve worked in patrol, investigation and administration. The last four and a half years I’ve been in a command position as assistant chief,” she said.

Fulk’s resume says she has “efficiently and effectively a large and complex police department faced with significant resource restraints.”

Baker, 46, an 18-year veteran of the FSPD, was named the interim chief following Clark’s resignation. His duties with the force have included special operations captain, narcotic unit supervisor, street crimes unit supervisor, detective, and field training officer. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2008 and captain in 2016, prior to Clark’s arrival and establishment of the lieutenant position. In October 2018, Baker became the first FSPD Officer to achieve the rank of deputy chief.

Baker said he would bring stability and long-term commitment to the office if named the new police chief.

“I have the back story on the department and where it’s been. I think I have a clear understanding of the vision the board of directors have for the city and how the police department fits into that. I’ve been involved in so many of the projects and plans being put in place. I have already built the relationships, so we can forge ahead and make sure we are successful,” Baker said.

The FSPD has just short of 160 uniformed officers and 42 staff members. Because of a resolution passed at the Sept. 3 BOD meeting, Geffken will meet with the board of directors to discuss his choice for the position prior to a new chief being named, though the final decision on who is hired will rest with him.

Prior to Monday’s interview a photo of Baker drinking a beer while holding a gun were posted on Facebook by Johnny Bolinger, along with other photos of Baker and others posing with guns. Baker said the photos were taken several years ago at an off-duty, after-hours camping trip in the woods on private property. Geffken said the photos would not play a role in whether or not Baker is hired for the position.

“I question the timing of the release of those photos. If they want to make a point about something, bring it to me. Don’t put it on social media,” Geffken said.

Bolinger was a 15-year veteran of the Fort Smith Police Department who was suspended for two weeks without pay in August 2018 for a Facebook post he made after learning he was being reassigned from the criminal investigations division to patrol. The post discussed 30 cuts to the force that left the department struggling and said homicide investigators had not received formal training.

Bolinger was accused of violating city and police department policies regarding the use of social media. The city policy states that employees are can express themselves as long as it does not disrupt the workforce or cause disharmony with coworkers. Police department policies state that an officer should not publicly criticize or ridicule the department.

In March, the Fort Smith Civil Service Commission ruled to reduce his suspension 80 hours to 10 hours. Baker testified against Bolinger at that hearing. Though his suspension was reduced, Bolinger resigned from the department.

“He’s one of the naysayers who left (the department),” Geffken said. “I would question anyone who wouldn’t bother to come to me and say, ‘Mr. Geffken, I have something to show you,’ and instead would just post it to social media. In my opinion, that is not looking to do that in the best way possible.”