The year was 2014 and residents of Saline County, and parts of Arkansas as well, had lost confidence in the sheriff and his department.
A tipping point had been reached and a call went out for a hero to step forward to fight crime, keeping evil-doers and ne’re-do-well villains away from our beloved version of Gotham. No ordinary person would do. Nothing less than a Champion of Justice could face the daunting task required.
Meanwhile, in Benton, Lt. Rodney Wright of the Benton Police Department had reached a point in his law enforcement career where a new challenge was in the cards. After 20 years of law enforcement experience, the Benton native and son of Donna & Bill Wright, he had amassed an impressive resume. After graduating from Benton High School, Rodney was convinced by then-officer Paul Childress to ride along during a patrol. One thing led to another and a career was launched.
In 1994, he joined the Benton Police Department, working his way up through the ranks to lieutenant, positions in the Criminal Investigation Division and SWAT. He also graduated from the prestigious FBI National Academy in Virginia, just outside Washington,
During a training session, Rodney was asked to come on stage with another officer to assist in a demonstration with the instructor.
Each officer was handed a cap gun and told to stand one on each side of the instructor, who also had a cap gun. The instructor put the barrel of the cap pistol to his temple, turned to Rodney and said, “React when I react.” A quick turn of the instructors hand and the cap pistol fired at Rodney, who was unable to fire his pistol in time.
“Again.” said the instructor. The result was the same. A third time did not change the outcome.
Three weeks later, Rodney responded to a call of a man with a gun at a local laundromat. Knowing a fellow officer was at the scene, Rodney sent a radio message to the patrolman, but no response was received. After exiting his patrol car, Rodney rounded the corner of the building to find himself face-to-face with a gunman, pistol at his temple. The training session with the cap guns flashed through his brain. His fellow officer was on the other side of the gunman.
Following repeated commands to drop his weapon and a palpable sense of tension, the gunman slowly lowered his pistol to the hood of his car. The gunman was apprehended and a confrontation that might have ended in a shoot-out was resolved in relative peace. He had faced danger such as this on various levels and knew the level of responsibility that he would possibly face as sheriff.
Having been taught by his parents the value of service to others and making a difference in the community, Rodney followed his aspiration to be part of something bigger, casting his name into the race for sheriff of Saline County.
Buoyed by the support of friends, fellow officers and family, he developed a strategy to regain trust in law enforcement that had soured. His message was simple: Look professional. Act professional. Be professional.
He won the election and took office in January of 2015, attributing the victory to his two children for their understanding, his parents for their example and his wife at the time, Kayce, for her guidance and support, which, according to Rodney, was key to his win.
The time for talk was over. Action was required. First, the image of the department needed to change. With the buy-in of each and every member of the Saline County Sheriff’s Department, re-branding took place.
Gone were the old uniforms. Gone were the days of casual dress. Gone was a lack of accountability.
Updated uniforms and a specific dress code were put into place. To back up the new look, higher expectations of interactions and professionalism with the residents of Saline County were set. Increased interactions with the media, the quorum court, other law enforcement agencies and social media significantly improved morale in the department and confidence in the community. Employee drug testing began. A significant outreach program with local schools and the use of school resource officers improved relations with students. The list of improvements is lengthy.
And it is paying off. In 2016, because of the changes made, Sheriff Wright was named Sheriff of the Year in Arkansas.
In true hero fashion, Sheriff Wright credits his staff for their hard work, deserving the recognition for the honor.
When asked what super power he would like to have, our sheriff picks the ability to see into the future, if only to stop tragedies before they occur.