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With Sheriff’s Office Patrols, Hartford Community Feels Safer

Almost a year after Hartford held a town hall to call for an increased Sheriff’s Office presence, residents in the community reportedly feel safer, despite not having their own police force in the city.

In September 2012, fed-up citizens prepared a list of criminal activity that hit the community within the previous six months and invited Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck and Judge David Hudson to the Hartford Rural Fire Department for a discussion.

The list included reports of burglaries and suspicious fires, and residents who attended the meeting complained of suspected drug activity in the area.

At the meeting, Hollenbeck told the crowd, “We can’t do any better unless we have your help. We have to partner, and you have to be the eyes and ears for us.”

The community responded, and the Sheriff’s Office went to work immediately.

Working with the Hartford police officers who served at the time, Sebastian County deputies employed preventive measures and made a series of arrests, dedicating extra man hours and overtime patrolling in Hartford and five miles outside the city, Maj. Kevin Nickson said.

The Sheriff’s Office conducted the bulk of the operation in a two-month period after the September meeting. After those two months, the department began to gradually decrease its presence. Today, deputies patrol the area about as much as they patrol other areas of the county, but with “special attention,” Nickson said.

Deputies made nearly 40 arrests, ranging from driving with a suspended license to suspected possession of marijuana to suspected burglary. Patrol units issued 19 traffic citations, with 30 warnings, and most importantly, made more than 100 contacts with residents, Nickson said.

Communicating with residents was crucial in conducting the operation, Nickson said.

“We helped them help themselves,” Nickson said. “It worked because they gave us the information.”

Target-hardening also was instrumental in preventing crime from happening in the area. The term refers making people aware when they open themselves up to a potential crime threat.

Nickson said an example would be if someone left their lawnmower out in the yard, or didn’t have a proper lock on a storage unit, sheriff’s deputies would speak directly to the residents. If they weren’t home, the deputies would leave a note.

“As long as we can deter crime and stop the crime, then the system works,” Nickson said.

In November, the Sheriff’s Office arrested 22-year-old Aaron Blake Rogers on suspicion of breaking into Hartford High School, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Nickson said deputies don’t go into an area wanting to make an arrest, but every town has its criminal element. Most of the drug arrests in Hartford involved prescription drugs, with some suspected marijuana and methamphetamine arrests.

Hartford Mayor Bob Rosso commended the Sheriff’s Office effort.

“They’re doing a good job for us,” Rosso said. “They’re on the ball and they keep things going.”

The city had a police chief and a few volunteer police officers, but in July let them go, citing financial reasons, Rosso said.

Pam Chick, site director at the Hartford Senior Center, said not having full-time police officers was problematic before the Sheriff’s Office arrived in town.

“They were part time — you can’t have a part-time cop because the people who are doing this (crime) know when that cop works,” Chick said.

Chick said the Senior Center endured a number of break-ins, including when someone smashed a window of the center’s van to steal a cup of change, and when the flowerpots in front of the center went missing on Mother’s Day.

After the Sheriff’s Office began to hold more influence in the city, the center installed security cameras and hasn’t had an incident, Chick said.

“Sebastian County is doing what they can do with the time that they have to be here,” Chick said.

Hartford residents Betty Pennington and Jackie Hoopengarner said they welcome the presence of the sheriff’s deputies in their city.

“I feel it’s a security to the community,” Pennington said. “In this day and times, you need some security and police enforcement. Our city does not have a policeman, so they’re taking over the job of securing the community.”

Hoopengarner agreed, adding, “I feel safer when I see them.”

Sgt. Mike Abshere said he enjoys the work he does in Hartford.

“We certainly like providing law enforcement for the community; we want them to feel safe,” Abshere said. “I enjoy being in this town. I like the people of this town. … and I want them to be safe.”

Times Record reporter Rachel Rodemann contributed to this report.

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