LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Public safety concerns are rising at the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office with the department more than a hundred deputies short.
That combined with our investigation into over $1 million in unpaid bills now has county leaders calling on Sheriff Eric Higgins to give them answers.
The Quorum Court asked Sheriff Higgins to speak at its meeting Tuesday, September 1.
Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers requested this be added to the agenda saying the court has been left in the dark.
“The buck stops with him,” Stowers said, “We’ve given the sheriff a year and a half in his tenure and the honeymoon is over.”
Stowers called our investigation a turning point and he believes it’s time for the Quorum Court to step in.
“I do not think Sheriff Eric Higgins is a bad man. what I do think is he’s not crossing his T’s, he’s not dotting his I’s, he won’t listen to people and the morale of this rank and file is very, very low,” Stowers added.
County records point to a concerning trend. Currently one out of every five deputy positions is vacant, a number that grew sharply since the beginning of the year.
The department started 2020 with 69 openings, which swelled to 107 by mid-August. That’s almost four times higher compared to the number of vacancies in each of the past three years.
“That’s unacceptable,” Stowers said.
Justice of the Peace Tyler Denton says he’s been asked by Sheriff Higgins to approve new positions but says he’s never been told why employees aren’t sticking around.
“Why there’s so many openings right now is a head-scratcher,” Denton said. “At this point, we’re more on a fact-finding mission to figure out what’s going on.”
His concern was only exacerbated by an anonymous letter that was recently sent to every member of the Quorum Court.
The letter is allegedly from a group of former and current Sheriff’s Office employees and makes a lot of concerning allegations. The writers say they have no confidence in Sheriff Higgins and several members of his command staff. In the letter, they claim the department is so understaffed that deputies in the jail are being asked to work 16 to 20 hours a day, often without breaks. The writers also accuse several command staff of harassment and having inappropriate sexual relationships with other employees.
All of those allegations are things we tried to ask Sheriff Higgins about but was told he wasn’t doing interviews.
“Rest assured, we will get to the bottom of it,” Denton said.
Stowers agreed, saying it’s time the Quorum Court lays down the law with the Sheriff.
“Going into hiding and refusing to talk to the media is the wrong way to go,” he said. “The right way to go would be to step forward and say, ‘Hey the buck stops with me.'”
The Quorum Court meeting is set for Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
The court can’t force the sheriff to be there, it’s his choice. We reached out to Sheriff Higgins and were told he plans on being at the meeting.