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Monday, May 2, 2016

Sheriff Dillinger reflects on his time in office

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger (left) assists Arkansas State Police during a manhunt last July. After serving two terms as Sheriff, Dillinger leaves office at the end of the year. Photo by Richard Irby
Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger hangs up from a phone call and walks into the jail lobby to find a woman and son who want to take out an assault warrant.

Later, as he has a smoke on the porch, people drift up for small talk and to express a complaint or opinion or two.

"Since May, I've done what I normally do," said Dillinger. "Come to work every day and do what I got to do."

Dillinger is refering to the fact his life changed on May 18, when Salem resident and State Trooper Buck Foley ended Dillinger's quest for a third term by defeating him in the Primary election.

"It is a disappointment," Dillinger said of his defeat, but he added, "It is just something you have to get used to. It's not my will but His (God's) will. I'll go home and mess with the cows and the farm."

Dillinger, 64, who lives on a farm in the Viola area, worked for the county highway department for a number of years and served as a deputy sheriff from 1984 to 1990.

Since he had not been involved much in politics, many were surprised when Dillinger ran for Sheriff in 2005 and won.

"Well, there was a lot of drug problems that they had around here and I thought I could make a difference in the county, for our young people," Dillinger explains when asked why he wanted to be Sheriff.

Dillinger believes he has made a difference, working with the Drug Task Force and his deputies.

"When I started, we had a lot of meth labs around the county. I ain't sayin there aren't any now but there were lots of them. We busted a lot of meth labs," Dillinger said.

Over the past four years, the Sheriff has seen the rise of another drug problem: prescription drug abuse.

There have been three suspected drug overdose deaths in Fulton County since mid-December.

"In a lot of ways, handling prescription drug problems is harder than meth," says Dillinger. "There is so many places you can get them (pills) and a lot of it is coming from outside the county."

Dillinger's main complaint about the Sheriff's job is the fact a Sheriff serves a two year term, while other county office holders serve four year terms.

"It needs to be four years," Dillinger said. "Two years, you just kind of get your feet on the ground. The next two years, you get to knowing the people and the problems and, then, the next two years you know what's really going on and what to do."

One thing the Sheriff won't miss is the constant struggle to patrol roads, respond to complaints, investigate crimes, provide court security and run the jail without proper funding to get the job done.

"We cut our budget last year, for 2010, about $40,000. That's a lot of money (for a small department to lose)," said Dillinger.

While the Sheriff says he is leaving the department in good financial shape, "some of our vehicles ain't the best in the world" and, in his opinion, deputies need better pay to stop good employees from leaving. "They want to go somewhere else where the pay is better. Can't blame them. I don't see it happening (better pay). I wish it would," Dillinger said.

In addition, Dillinger sees a need for more deputies. There were three when he served as a deputy in the 1980's and only five today, handling more calls, dealing with more people and more serious crime issues.

"They say there should be one deputy for one thousand people. To really get out there and do the job right, we need at least nine, right now. We've got over 12,000 population."

Dillinger adds that, as Sheriff, he tried to keep more deputies on patrol by keeping on the move himself.

"I tried to do a lot of transporting of prisoners. Saves the county a lot of money when I do it. If deputies do it, it runs into a lot of comp time. Maybe they'll have to take time off. So, I tried to do as much transporting as possible."

Dillinger said he did the best he could with what he had to work with and he wishes Buck Foley well, since the incoming Sheriff will face the same problems he has.

Dillinger hopes a new jail will finally be built next year, saving the county the $25,000 to $30,000 a year it currently spends to house prisoners in Izard County.

He also hopes the project will include new office space for the department.

"We're cramped here (at the current jail). We don't even have a room to interview people. If you do, everybody can hear what's going on," said Dillinger.

Dillinger proudly describes himself as a local country boy and insists that being Sheriff didn't change him.

"I wear my blue jeans and my regular shirt and my boots," said Dillinger. "That's the way I am. My door has always been open to anyone. I get a lot of calls at home from people that, they know, if they call here (the office) it's recorded, so they call my house and give me information."

He laughed when he said State Police officers called him "Andy Griffith" because he rarely wears a gun. But Dillinger attended the Criminal Justice Institute and took other training courses to improve his law enforcement skills.

"I keep a gun in my vehicle but I don't carry one on me unless we are going on a drug bust or something like that where I need to protect myself," said Dillinger.

The Sheriff had hoped to quitely serve out his final few weeks, but things did not turn out that way.

When a deputy discovered more than 100 horses on a Viola farm without proper food or water, Dillinger said he could not ignore the problem. Dillinger had received past complaints about the mistreatment of animals on Rodney Kankey's farm and the large scale neglect gave him the chance to act.

"When you get so many calls, you know, you've got to do something. You gotta do something or another. Getting a hold of them people was the first step really."

The "people" were the Arkansas Humane Society in Little Rock, which was already aware of problems at the farm, and the ASPCA.

The Sheriff's Department sought a search warrant, which allowed the animal protection agencies to enter the property, care for the horses and, finally, relocate them to Mountain Home where they are responding to food, water and medical treatment.

"Them horses are doing good now and I feel good about that," Dillinger said.

As his term winds down, is Dillinger angry that he didn't get enough support to serve another term?

"No. No way," Dillinger responded. "Whether they voted for me or not, they are still my friends. I appreciate people giving me the opportunity and they still have my number if they need me."

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