Compromise reached in Jonesboro tag reader debate

JONESBORO — Police Chief Franklin Allen argued with hesitant Jonesboro councilmen for half an hour Monday about his request to buy two car tag readers for his department but eventually settled for only one of the devices.

The council balked at the request last week when Allen first brought it up. Council members continued to resist the idea this week, despite hearing from several residents who urged city leaders to grant Allen's request during a public comment period.

Council members debated with Allen about whether the tag readers would keep the city safe. Councilman Randy Segner grilled the police chief most about the safety issue, which led to some tense moments between the two men.

“I want you on Main Street and North Avenue if my house is being broken into and my 21-year old daughter is there with somebody who could rape her,” said Segner. “[But, instead] you’re out on Tara Boulevard stopping somebody who’s got a license tag missing.”

Allen responded by saying, “It sounds like we’re adding a tag reader and we’re going to be taking people out of the neighborhood [but] no sir, it’s not. Our first priority in our mission statement is the protection of lives in the community and neighborhoods of this city.

“That’s in our mission statement and these guys [police officers] know our mission statement because you can’t deliver that service if you don’t know what your mission is,” said Allen. “We are simply looking to add an enhancement tool to our process to benefit the city and benefit the police department.”

Allen sought the purchase of two tag readers, on top of the one reader the department already has, to create an alternate revenue source in case the police department loses its ability to use speed detection devices at the end of the year. The state-issued speed-detection device permit is in jeopardy because of the ongoing service delivery strategy dispute with the county.

While the council generally balked at buying additional readers, the compromise to give the police department one of the two $18,900 tag readers Allen requested ultimately came from Councilman Wallace Norrington. He suggested buying one unit to give the department a back-up device in case there is a break down with the car to which the city’s existing unit is attached.

It was an offer that Allen was eager to take.

“My grandparents raised me to not look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Allen. “I’ll take whatever I can get.”

The compromise was actually born out of comments from Councilman Clarence Mann, however, who told Allen he would support the purchase if he could see more than one month of data.

Mann said he wanted to see if the tag readers could continue to pull in the $172,000 in revenues that one tag reader brought in during a trial period in July.

The council voted 5-1 to buy one tag reader. Councilman Joe Compton cast the lone dissenting vote.

Meanwhile, residents opened the council meeting by giving passionate speeches to the council both for and against the tag readers.

“It’s a no brainer,” said resident Wayne Day. “It’s a money-making thing we have. It’s safety first. Why can’t we get on board?”

Another resident, Jack Bruce, said, “It makes sense. I know that’s hard to believe, but if you take the cost of the unit versus the revenues of the unit, the revenues are much greater than the cost. Who amongst you would say we don’t need additional revenues? No one that I know of.”

Resident David Barron came out against the readers, however, by arguing it was just another “gadget” for the police officers to play with. “How many gadgets can policemen operate in an automobile?” he said. “He’s got his hands full with radar and this, that and the other.”

Last week, Allen said police — while pulling over vehicles flagged by the tag reader in July — recovered five stolen vehicles and made arrests or gave citations for:

• 107 suspended-registration violations.

• 73 expired-car-tag violations.

• 56 lack-of-car-insurance violations.

• 15 suspended-license violations.

• Nine people wanted on warrants.

• Six expired-license violations.

• Six lack-of-a-car-tag violations.

• Three “misrepresenting”-a-car-tag violations.

• Two license-permit violations.

• Two violations for not having a child under 6 properly restrained.

• One driving-with-an-open-container-of-alcohol violation.

• One driving-the-wrong-class-of-vehicle violation.