For as long as he can remember, Carl Minden wanted to be in law enforcement. Born in Pine Bluff and raised in Clarksville, his father, who died when Minden was only six-years-old, was an Arkansas State Trooper, which explains how Minden wound up in Clarksville.

“My dad was a trooper. You go where you go. That’s all there is to it,” he said.

Minden’s memories of his father are mainly through old photos and stories told to him by people who knew him and worked with him.

“We had pictures of him in his uniform and he always looked sharp, he was sort of like the poster boy for the state police back then,” Minden said. “I would run into people who knew him and maybe somebody would say, ‘hey, your dad gave me a ticket but he was the coolest guy around,’ or ‘your dad helped my mom change a tire one time.’ I liked that and that’s what I wanted to do, help people. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true, I wanted to serve.”

Minden got his start in law enforcement in 1995 with the Arkansas State Police, then went to the Jacksonville Police Department, before landing at the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) in 1998 to work under the leadership of former Sheriff Randy Johnson. In the ensuing 20 years, Minden worked his way up to his current rank of major, one of two in the sheriff’s office, both of whom report directly to Sheriff Doc Holladay, who is not seeking a fourth term. Starting out as a patrol deputy, Minden has worked in support services and criminal investigations as well. In 2010, he took over the duties of public information officer, which he had done on an as-needed basis to assist the former PIO.

“Being full time PIO doesn’t mean that’s all I do. I’m responsible for a lot of other things within the department,” he said. “I’m over criminal investigations, narcotics, records, the warrants clerks, the 911 center, computer services, training, and special services. I get to wear a lot of hats.”

Minden’s early ambition was to go into law enforcement at the federal level, which prompted him to enroll in pre-law, political science, and sociology courses in college. He said he even attended law school for a time but his plans were diverted when he met his future wife, Angela, in Fayetteville.

“She didn’t want to leave Arkansas so that was that,” Minden said, with a laugh as he explained why he didn’t pursue a federal career. “She changed my plans, but in a good way.”

Today they are married, have three children, and live in Little Rock, where Angela works as a nuclear medicine technologist.

Minden said although there have been changes over the past 20 years in law enforcement in Pulaski County, many challenges are deeply rooted and long-lived.

“Jail overcrowding has always been an issue,” he said. “It’s been crowded with state inmates for as long as I can remember. Before I came and since I’ve been here. Tommy Robinson was chaining state inmates to the state prison back in the early ‘80s to draw attention to the problem.”

The current jail facility will house 1,210 inmates, making it the largest in the state. Minden said between 200 and 400 of the beds are usually occupied by inmates who have been sentenced to the state penitentiary but are awaiting bed space before they can be transferred. He said persistent overcrowding has prompted him to seek alternatives to arrest of nonviolent offenders whenever possible.

“The state does a good job in working with us when we’re feeling the pressure, getting close to our cap, but the thing is, they don’t have any place to put them,” he said. “At any given time there will be around 2,000 state inmates housed in county jails around the state.”

A state law recently passed to place four Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs) in the state, including one in Pulaski County, to divert persons suffering from mental health issues as an alternative to jailing them is an idea Minden said he embraces, both as a way to free up a few bed spaces and to offer an alternative to entering mentally ill detainees into the judicial system.

The state also provides training for deputies in crisis intervention when faced with a mentally ill subject. Minden said the state’s goal is to certify up to 20 percent of officers, who attend a 40 hour training course, to form crisis intervention teams in their departments.

“My goal is to eventually get to 100 percent of our deputies being trained,” said Minden. “In some cases like murder or robbery, there’s no question, somebody’s going to jail. If someone has to go to jail, they have to go, but if there’s another way then we want to look at that.”

Another innovation Minden endorses is a veteran’s court established in the county intended to identify military veterans with specific, service-related issues, and find assistance for them rather than incarcerating them.

“Not all veterans will be eligible. That’s determined by their offense, and it’s too new to be able to pull any numbers to gauge its effectiveness, but there’s really no downside to doing it,” he said. “It costs money but the state gave us some money to put with what the county has budgeted. And it’s not a new idea. Veteran Courts have been established in other states and have proven to be successful.”

Drug abuse is another problem that has been an issue for many years, but Minden said opioid abuse coupled with a resurgence in the availability of heroin cut with Fentanyl, a very powerful opioid, has led to a new crisis; a sharp increase in overdose cases. Narcan, an opioid inhibitor used to revive overdose victims is now standard issue with the department, he said, with each deputy now carrying two Narcan applicators.

Narcan, with a shelf life of two years, costs the department about $70 per deputy, Minden said. While the cost is a factor, he said the shelf life has so far not been an issue, which he said signals just how serious the problem is.

“We’re using it before it expires,” he said. “The problem has gotten that bad, and it crosses all social and economic boundaries. People say it can’t happen here, well, it is happening here and we can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand.”

Minden said if he is elected he intends to restart the school resource officer program that was discontinued some years ago.

“The county hasn’t had them in over 12 years and that’s an integral part that we need to have back. I’m working on getting that, trying to get them back even this year,” said Minden. Beyond the safety and security aspect of a school resource officer program, Minden said providing kids with positive interactions with law enforcement helps foster better relations between police and the public from that point on.

Asked why he believes he is the better choice to tackle these and other issues faced by the department, Minden said his tenure and experience with the sheriff’s office will give him the ability to hit the ground running.

In addition to management of the jail, the sheriff’s department provides security for the courts and serves warrants issued by the courts, and is the primary law enforcement entity for the unincorporated areas of Pulaski County.

“Both of us have quite a bit of law enforcement experience and both of us have quite a bit of law enforcement leadership experience, but what I bring to the table is an intimate knowledge of how the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department works,” he said. “I know it because I’ve done it for the past 20 years. I know the communities and how we interact with them. There are 580 square miles and 50 thousand people who don’t live in the city limits and we are their primary law enforcement.”

Minden has received endorsement from Sheriff Holladay, former Pulaski County Sheriff Randy Johnson, and from several Fraternal Order of Police organizations in the area, including the Pulaski County FOP.

Because no Republican, independent, or third party candidates are running in this race, and because both Minden and his opponent, Eric Higgins, both Democrats, are the only two candidates, this race will be decided by the outcome of the May 22 primary election.

A profile of Higgins will run in next week’s issue.