Sevier County Sheriff Robert Gentry asked the court for almost $12,000 for a used Dodge Durango the department wished to purchase after two of their vehicles were wrecked during pursuits of stolen vehicles.
“January 26 was a long day,” Gentry said, noting there had been a "barrage" of stolen vehicles in the county of late, one being a county-owned Ford F450 and the second a truck stolen from Baker’s Towing.
Gentry said that one wrecked department vehicle was a 2012 Dodge Charger, which was used as a backup vehicle and had exhausted its usefulness and was set to be auctioned in July. The other vehicle was a Dodge truck. He told the court that the insurance coverage of the two vehicles combined amounted to $23,263 and that he had secured a Dodge Durango with 15-20,000 miles on it from Gentry Chevrolet and needed the almost $12,000 to cover the difference between the insurance settlement money and the cost.
He said that he has two vehicles already on order from De Queen Ford but was unsure how long it would take for them to be delivered. He said that the department waited nine months for delivery of a couple new trucks the last time they ordered them.
In answer to a question from Justice of the Peace Greg Wright, Gentry said that his deputies are provided training for high-speed chases and that further training would be provided to deputies and recruits when the state police finish building a track that will replicate cement, gravel, wet, dry and other road conditions they may have to drive in. He said that the department’s pursuit policy is to give chase until it becomes a danger and that while they won’t chase far over a misdemeanor case, they will pursue subjects wanted for felonies and violent crimes.
“We go all in,” he said about those situations. “If that was your truck, you’d want us to go all in.”
Justice David Wright said that he had checked a wrecked department vehicle being stored at Baker’s and that there was trash in it.
“It’s filthy,” David Wright told Gentry, saying that as far as he was concerned, the vehicle's condition wasn’t the fault of the deputy but rather the deputy’s supervisors. “If you’re not going to take care of it, why should we give you another one?”
Justice of the Peace Roger Whitmore, a state trooper for 23 years, said that at times, when state police are packing up an accident scene, they will take trash surrounding a disabled vehicle and throw it in the front seat. David Wright said that he asked and that was not what happened.
Justice Roxy Stephens said that they should take pride in their vehicle and keep them clean.
“I don’t throw trash and leave bottles in my car,” she told the court.
Justice Kenneth Currence asked how fast deputies were allowed to drive in response to a call and Gentry told him 15-20 miles over the speed limit.
“When somebody’s getting beat up they want us there right now,” Gentry said. “When they’re upside down in a vehicle, they want us there right now.”
Gentry said, when deputies arrive on a crime or accident scene, they’re often asked, “What took you so long to get here?” He said there’s a lot of risk in the police business, that officers are being shot all over the country and that it’s getting closer and closer to home. He said that they’ve had six trucks stolen in the county in the last two weeks.
Stephens added that deputies have to make stressful decisions in real time.
“They’re not always what we think they should be,” she said.
Justice Mike Archer questioned why they were willing to pay $35,000 when they could get a state bid for $27,000. Gentry said that he was looking for a quick fix and didn’t have nine months to wait. He said that he ordered the two Dodge trucks in December and all they could tell him was that the order had been turned in.
Judge Greg Ray said that the department didn’t have to get a bid on a vehicle that’s a year older than the manufacturer’s date.
Greg Wright asked to table the item until they could get more bids or see if the new Dodge’s become available.