MR. STEVE GAHAGANS
Conducted by: Laura Minton
MINTON: In 2007, when you took over the position of Director, what was the biggest pressing issue and what steps did you take to ensure that the issue would be no longer as big of an issue?
GAHAGANS: Well the issue I think when I started back in 2007… I don’t think there was an overarching issue per say that just had to be addressed, so from working from Mr. Slamons, who was my boss at the time, he and I would have frequent discussions. And so really, it was more so both of us, and especially me continuing some of the things that we wanted to see happen as far as our goals and objectives going into the future, and so forth. He was always complimentary in the sense and encouraging in the sense for me to continue to try and do what I can to progress the department. So when he retired, he and I will still meet even to this day, not recently, but since 2007, we would meet and we would continue to discuss the University of Arkansas Police Department and the course that we’re taking, and are we taking the appropriate course and are we still advancing the department in a way that we are doing some things to the satisfaction of our officers but in addition continuing to move towards the safety of the campus, strengthening the safety of the campus?
MINTON: So, speaking of that, what major changes and/or programs have you and Slamons discussed and implemented since 2007?
GAHAGANS: Well some of the programs we’ve implemented, we—I think we were able to put rifles and shotguns in the units but actually before he retired, but we also have—but the one thing we were able to do is number one we were working on increasing pay for the staff of the University of Arkansas Police Department. We also were wanting to try to have an organizational chart where more of our staff could see opportunities for promotion, so we were able to change that. We were able to go from one captain to four captains, and so now the structure is we were able to have a captain rank, a lieutenant rank, sergeant rank, and even incorporate corporal ranks throughout the organization. As far as equipment-wise, we changed to having instead of kind of a cruiser, we were able to go to, what do you call it, SUVs, smaller SUVs for patrol. We were able to bring on K9s. We now have four K9s, dogs, three of them are ordinance dogs, and one of them is a drug dog, so we were able to accomplish that. And I’m trying to think, with those accomplishments, we were able to increase our fleet—we used to only have nine vehicles in our fleet, but now we have thirteen vehicles in our fleet. We were able to purchase a much needed pick-up truck because of some of the work we were doing and so forth and so on. So those are just some of the examples of things we were working to continually try to improve, and as with any organization you have, you know, continual personnel challenges, I guess in the sense, but we thought if we could help get the pay up, if we could help give them the tools that they need to better do their jobs, that we could get into some of the areas that we had not been into before, such as our K9 unit, that we thought we would be progressing this department forward, and the other thing is to just to stay closely involved with our athletic events, stay closely involved with the Emergency Notifications, and continue to work with the Cleary Act and the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX issues just to make sure that we have people plugged into places to where we are very much a part of those decision makings that take place on those particular topics.
MINTON: With all these changes that you know are happening continually, how does the University community, as well as the Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas community, accept these changes?
GAHAGANS: every change that we’ve made, we’ve not had any pushback. Now, I could give you one where there’s a deeper discussion, and we are following up on that: the ability for us to be able to allow our officers to carry conductive electronic devices, some people refer to them as tasers. So that’s our next step and working with our public safety council is to see what are the issues on the table in regards to our officers being able to carry the conducted electronic devices, and we feel that it will serve us in our efforts to protect the safety of or protect the public in the sense of certain types of situations we might get involved in.
MINTON: You have the tasers, and you have all these different ideas, so how have technological advances impacted the UAPD?
GAHAGANS: well in two areas, the continued improvement with tasers, if you will, in addition to body worn cameras. We also are looking at purchasing body worn cameras for the officers because of the types of situations that we get into, we think it could help the officers give a visual to what they were dealing with and what the encounter was. And matter of fact, that has been voted probably as our top priority is to issue body worn cameras to the officers. And then we’re looking at green technology. We’re looking at electric motorcycles, we’re looking at electric all-terrain vehicles to see how that could further enhance our patrol efforts for the safety of the students, faculty, and staff.
MINTON: What do you see for the future of the University Police Department?
GAHAGANS: one, we, I think, the recruitment of young adults to consider the field of law enforcement, I think is one of the biggest challenges. There are a healthy number of people that would probably not seriously consider law enforcement as a career, and even some of us in law enforcement might make less than positive comments about this line of work, so I see going into the future that leaderships and police organizations need to continue to find ways to recruit the best and the brightest because I think the challenges ahead for people in law enforcement is only going to increase with what’s out there, considering cyber terrorism, terrorism, and all those types of things that we might be confronted with in the future, so I think keeping the best of technology as well as recruiting, continuing to recruit the best and brightest into this field.
MINTON: How does the University handle cyber and with all these technologies, such as phones, etc. how do you handle those cases?
GAHAGANS: well, first we look inside to see who in our department may have some level of knowledge on these particular issues, and if we don’t have that knowledge, we will reach out to our other Northwest Arkansas agencies to see if they have someone with that type of technology, and then co-investigate whatever crime that might occur. Then of course we always have the state police and the federal agencies that we can also ask for assistance if we need it.
MINTON: Is there anything you would like to say about the department and its transformation?
GAHAGANS: Well, I had the opportunity to work for Mr. Slamons before he retired. I worked directly under him, and I can’t say enough about the mentorship that he provided me as someone that was young and had aspirations of one day being a chief. I had already been a chief, but to be a chief on the larger scale. He was instrumental in that regard. He was instrumental in setting a tone of always projecting a sense of professionalism. He always coached me on having a pulse, being service-minded to the community, which I thought was probably one of the best instructions you could get. You can do whatever you want to do in your police world, but you have to have a pulse and a reading of the community and what they desire and what they want, and part of our primary responsibility is meeting the expectations of the community. So I would say that if I had to choose one thing that he really was instructing me on, was making sure that that occurred. So I’ve tried in my career to always remember: what does the community think? How will the community react to some of the things that we want to do and accomplish? Mr. Slamons had fought some battles that we, coming after him, are not going to have to fight because he fought those battles and they’ve already had things in place. Now for those that come after him, it’s a matter of continuing the work that he begun, and even after me, the next person coming in will be continuing the work that Larry Slamons and I have worked on, and that’s what we hope for the future of the University of Arkansas Police Department, and Larry Slamons was a beginner, the starter, the one that had the early challenges, but he knocked those doors down and he paved the way for someone like me to where I might not have to work as hard on some of the issues.