Arkansas Times reporter David Koon sat down with retiring Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas, who ends his 35-year career with the LRPD on June 27, to talk about his career. Here's the Q & A:
AT: I read somewhere that you got your start as a cop by coming to the department to complain about a car breakin?
THOMAS: Yes, I don't recommend it. But I did.
AT: Which part, coming to complain or getting your car broken into?
THOMAS: Either one. It's not an easy experience. I was a much younger man at the time, and my appearance was quite different. I had an MGB convertible, and somebody cut a hole in the roof, even though the door was unlocked, and rummaged through the center console. It was on a snowy night, and the police took the report over the phone. I just didn't think that was right. I wanted fingerprints and detectives like on TV, the whole nine yards. So I came down to the police department and started at the front desk, explaining my situation. I wanted to talk to whoever was in charge. One thing led to another and I happened to wind up visiting with a police captain who was, oddly, working nights. At the time, he was going to college during the day and working at night. I explained to him all the things that were wrong with the world and the police department and my world in particular. He graciously listened to me for awhile. Finally, he said: "Obviously you have some very strong ideas. Why don't you come down here for a year and try it, then see if you still have some of those same opinions?" I said something to the effect of: "How hard can it be to drive fast to the donut shop? Sign me up!" He actually had an application there. One thing led to another, and I filled out the paperwork and went through the process, and ultimately the department offered me a position. ... I lived with my mother at the time. She basically said: "They called your bluff. I don't particularly want you to do this, but you either need to shut up or go down there and do it." I came to the department and was very quickly immersed in things I'd never seen or done. I quickly found that I enjoyed the work. The people were nowhere near what I thought they were. I made my year and decided to stay, and I've had a very fortunate career inasmuch as I've had the opportunity to do a lot of different things. It's stayed interesting. Thirty-five years, I've pretty well done it.
AT: You've done a little bit of everything here at the department: patrol, detective, internal affairs and administration. Does any of it stick out in your mind as the best of times?
THOMAS: I don't necessarily know. I've still got a few months, so maybe the best of times are ahead. But I think I felt the most productive and the most satisfied when I was in homicide. To me, that's just the ultimate assignment. There's a certain amount of satisfaction when you're able to put that together. You're dealing with families that have gone through the worst possible thing that can happen to them. While you don't enjoy it, you do enjoy the opportunity to offer them some solace. I think I enjoyed that some. It was probably the most taxing. I was in homicide for two and a half years. I got promoted to sergeant and left homicide. It was physically and emotionally the most draining, but I think it was the most satisfying job.