Police sirens

The Atkins city council met with Benton County Supervisor Tracy Seeman and Sheriff Ron Tippett during a council meeting on Monday to discuss how the entities will provide law enforcement to the growing communities over the next several years.

“The sheriff and supervisor gave us some options to look at moving forward,” Atkins Mayor Bruce Visser said. “One thing that they requested was that at some point in the near future was for the City of Atkins to secure its own policing force, say in three years.”

The discussion comes after the City of Atkins requested an increase in hours in their contract with the Sheriff’s Department from 18 hours a week for $24,000 to 40 hours for over $80,000. According to recent census data, Atkins has grown from 977 residents in 2000 to approximately 2,050 residents in 2020, originally leading to the city council requesting more hours for law enforcement starting this fiscal year.

“The sheriff and deputies do provide more hours than our contract states,” Visser said. “As we’ve grown, there’s been a trend upwards for more requests. We wanted to see our hours increase to meet those requests as best as we can.”

In May, the county supervisors tabled the request over concerns of maintaining this increase in hours and felt plans should be developed by the City of Atkins to eventually create its own police force to respond to the continued population growth. Funding for county law enforcement is generated from the entire county, and the allocation of so many hours in one town was brought up by the supervisors in previous discussions.

“It was a good meeting,” Tippett said. “I believe the council understands the county’s position and we can’t go above and beyond for them long term. They are interested in looking into this more. We have a gentlemen’s agreement to keep providing them 18 hours a week of coverage in the meantime.”

Visser stated the city council will hold a work session on August 2 to discuss law enforcement in their community and consider the options recommended by county officials. If the City of Atkins were to go forward with increasing their contract hours with the sheriff’s department, it would be a “temporary” agreement.

“There’s always the possibility the city stays with the existing number of hours,” Visser said. “We want to look at a plan going forward. No firm commitments have been made back to the sheriff yet.”

Visser and the City of Atkins have been in contact with nearby cities with police force with similar sizes to gain input. While a firm number was not available, estimates to start a new police force range from $300,000 to $400,000. Seeman and Tippett both noted there are grants available to help cities establish police forces. Tippett made the recommendation Atkins consider a department of two or three officers to start.

“If you apply for a grant and you don’t get it, they’ll critique you and tell you what’s needed,” Tippett said. “There would be chances each year. We want them to make the best decision for them. We’re not going to leave them without coverage.”

This is a developing story and Vinton Newspapers will have updates as they are made available.