|Updated: 8/27/2012 10:04 pm
||Published: 8/27/2012 3:17 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas State Police Col. J.R. Howard announced his retirement from the agency's top role Monday, and veteran trooper Stan Witt was picked to replace him and lead the organization as it undergoes changes in technology and personnel.
Howard, who served as State Police leader for about 15 months, said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. He came out of retirement in 2011 to take the job.
Witt, 55, who was named to the position by Gov. Mike Beebe, said he doesn't intend to make any quick changes.
"The first thing I'm going to do probably is meet with all the department commanders and do a full assessment of the department to see what the needs are for each division and to see what the priorities are," he said.
Witt, a 27-year veteran trooper, spent seven years on patrol, 15 in the Criminal Investigative Division in Jonesboro and five in the agency's administration.
His first law enforcement job was with the Walnut Ridge police in 1975 when he was 19. He went on to be elected Lawrence County sheriff, a post he left after a year in 1985 to accept a position with the state police.
Witt noted the department has been introducing new technology, something he said will continue under his leadership. He said an electronic system for writing citations is under testing now.
Also, Witt said 16 troopers, with a combined 529 years of experience, have retired in the last 12 months. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said another 13 are to retire through the end of 2014.
"Restoring our ranks with qualified personnel is a priority," Witt said.
The agency has 925 employees. Of those, 522 are commissioned officers and 403 are civilian.
Witt said he was called to the governor's office by Beebe two weeks ago, and he was summoned again Wednesday. He said he hadn't made up his mind whether to take the job until the night before the second visit with Beebe.
The governor said he spoke to a number of people in the organization before making a decision on a replacement for Howard.
"I did a lot of talking within the agency from the bottom to the top," Beebe said. "Troopers who are in the field, the various divisions, the leadership cadre. (Witt) is someone who had all the experience and the various levels of activity of the state police and somebody who most folks felt like ... had the leadership ability to garner the confidence of the agency, and that's important."
The agency's reputation has taken a couple of hits this year. Earlier this month, Howard fired Cpl. Royce Denney after he dumped suspected marijuana and confiscated a gun seized in a traffic stop of then-Arkansas State University football player Michael Dyer.
Also this month, the agency unveiled a new policy that bars troopers who work college sports events from accepting free tickets or other items if the value exceeds $100. The policy comes several months after a trooper assisted former Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino following a motorcycle crash with his mistress in April and the subsequent revelation that the trooper, Capt. Jeffrey Lance King, had accepted gifts from the Razorbacks athletic program.
King wasn't disciplined by the agency for how he handled the crash but self-reported a violation over receiving gifts from the program to the state Ethics Commission, which proposed a letter of caution.
Witt said the new policy should head off any future problems in how troopers connect with university sports programs.
The new director said it took some time to become comfortable with the idea of stepping into the head role.
"Once that question was posed to me by the governor I had many sleepless nights before I made my decision," Witt said. "I feel very confident in my decision and have slept well since then."
Witt is the 18th state police commander.
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