With his first year as sheriff of Jefferson County behind him, Lafayette Woods, Jr. refuses to loiter when it comes to moving his office into the future.
With his first year as sheriff of Jefferson County behind him, Lafayette Woods, Jr. refuses to loiter when it comes to moving his office into the future. In fact, he’s already working on accomplishing a feat he says no other sheriff’s office in the natural state has managed to do.
“As part of the many focuses in my second year as sheriff, I am proud to share with citizens of Jefferson County our enrollment into the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.,” Woods said. “The accreditation is a process in which our agency will be evaluated on compliance with prescribed standards established by CALEA--- the gold standard in public safety. Out of the large number of municipal law enforcement agencies in the state of Arkansas, there are only six agencies that hold the distinction of being a CALEA Law Enforcement accredited agency.”
With the support and cooperation of the men and women in his office, Woods explains that last year he launched a website and mobile app with the intent to improve transparency and community and public relations. After going dormant for a few years, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Program returned with the acquisition of a new dog.
“Together, we are a reflection of the citizens of Jefferson County--- who we represent, protect, and serve,” Woods said of his employees. “We are all working together and our impact is visible in the community.”
Woods cites improved crime statistics over the past year to “increased trust in county law enforcement” combined with a “boost in employee morale” prompting deputies to “place service above self.”
“There was an increase by 55.56 percent in the category of theft of motor vehicles with a 41.67 percent decrease of other theft categories such as theft from building counterfeiting in 2019 compared to 2018,” he said. “In general, violent crimes were down with robberies reduced by 100 percent and property crimes are down with burglaries/breaking and entering reduced by 48.28 percent.”
Despite the improvements Woods made in his first year, it didn’t come without its various challenges. Just months after he was sworn in on Jan. 1, Jefferson County saw record-levels of flooding forcing residents to evacuate to seek shelter.
“During that time, we witnessed flooding in areas such as Island Harbor, Riverside Drive, and other areas in Pine Bluff,” Woods said. “Areas such as Knotts Island, Wright-Pastoria and Trulock Bay were also affected due to their close proximity to the Arkansas River and levees that parallel the river’s course. Overall, we were successful in working alongside very capable individuals to diminish the consequences of an even greater disaster narrowly avoiding injury or death.”
With the escape of two inmates--- Wesley Gullett, a suspected leader of a white supremacist gang and a fellow detainee Christopher Sanderson--- from the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center that allegedly occurred between 8:30 p.m. on Mon., July 29, and 4:30 a.m. Tues., July 30., Woods found himself at the center of a search for both men.
“Following an extensive manhunt with multiple agencies working together, both Gullett and Sanderson were later recaptured,” he said. “One thing that aided in the escape was the use of jail mat padding to construct makeshift “dummy bodies”, which were then placed in the beds of the escapees in order to give jailors the impression they were asleep. Additionally, when conducting cell counts, jail personnel failed to follow proper protocol revealed in an internal investigation that ultimately resulted in the termination of at least one detention center supervisor and a subordinate.”
Woods attributes vulnerabilities in the security caused by “structural deficiencies” as a result of a decade old building that also led to contraband entering into the detention center.
“I identified funding to support the construction of a security fence equipped with razor wire and an intrusion detention system along the upper perimeter of the detention center,” he said. “Additional cameras were also installed along the outer perimeter.”
Budget woes also surfaced as major hurdles for Woods last year and continue to be an issue for his office.
“At the onset of my first year in office, I was immediately faced with the challenge of an inadequate budget that threatened operations and personnel severely,” he said. “Essential positions including assistance to the juvenile justice center and adult jail administrators were carved out of the budget prior to me taking office. As a result, I was forced to operate with only one administrator for the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center and Jack Jones Juvenile Justice Center with maximum capacities of 316 and 87, respectively.”
Even with the challenges Woods encountered last year, he insists they motivate him to work harder on behalf of the citizens of Jefferson County.
“I made a promise to both voters and personnel that my vision of success for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office would be realized no matter the challenges,” he said. “Despite the challenges, I have remained focused on improving the standards in which we operate ultimately holding true to my vision of success.”
As Woods continues to make strides to better the lives of those living in Jefferson County, he says the alliances with other law enforcement agencies help in those efforts.
“As it relates to enhancing partnerships with neighboring agencies, our agency shares the responsibility of hosting quarterly meetings with the heads of law enforcement agencies within its jurisdiction to include the Arkansas State Police, Pine Bluff Police Department, White Hall Police Department, Redfield Police Department and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Office of Public Safety,” he said. “This interagency collaboration has helped to promote greater efficiency in service delivery to our respective citizens while producing more public value by working together toward a common purpose or goal. I give credit to Pine Bluff police chief Kevin Sergeant who hosted the first meeting for bringing all agencies together.”
With a vision of pushing his office and Jefferson County into new heights, Woods’ gives credit to residents for trusting him to be the leader of that vision.
“With God guiding my career and citizens providing me with the opportunity to serve, there is no greater reward,” he said.