Alstadt Retires as Piggott Police Chief
A near lifetime of public service drew to a close on Tuesday, Dec. 30, as Bill Alstadt retired from his position as Piggott police chief. A 36-plus year veteran of the local department, Alstadt has served as patrolman, assistant chief and chief of the Piggott PD, and has been active in both the state chief's association and in local training efforts. Chosen to take his place was longtime local law officer, and current Lieutenant, Don Poole.
Sitting in his already cleaned-out office on his final day on the job, Alstadt talked about his life and career--all the while greeting the many city employees who stopped by to wish him well in retirement.
A native of Rector, Alstadt spoke of the idyllic life he enjoyed as a boy.
"I grew up in Rector and my folks had a grocery store there when I was a kid," he reminisced. "I had a great life growing up in Rector, ran all over town and had a great childhood. Some of my favorite spots to visit were the blacksmith shops and welding shops, I loved to watch them work and I learned a lot that way."
When Alstadt was 17 his father suffered a mild stroke, and was advised to get out of the grocery business. A short time later the business was sold, as neither the young man nor his older brother were interested in taking over. It was also about this time when his life took another turn, further shaping the future for the young Alstadt.
"I'd always wanted to be an electrician, had for years," he explained. "And, after I got out of high school I took a job as an apprentice electrician with this old man a Jonesboro and he was going to teach me the trade."
Alstadt noted his first, and only, job with the contractor was a project to wire new switches for the fuel pumps at one of the fire stations in Jonesboro. But, little did he know his career path was about to make a change.
"I came home from work and my parents sat me down and told me they thought being an electrician was too dangerous of a job, and that they had enrolled me in mechanic school at Cotton Boll Vo-Tech at Burdette," he added. "Of course, in those days it just wasn't right to argue with your parents about such things--so I went to school to be a mechanic."
This vocation paid off for the young man, as he worked as shop manager at Hardcastle Chevrolet in Piggott and also worked for Carlock in Blytheville. He also spent nearly five years working for Kenneth Rodery at East Main Body and Service, even continuing part time after his career path took additional turns.
"When the city started the ambulance service in the 1970s I was one of the first ones to get certified," he explained. "And, I completed the training to become an EMT."
A few years later his career path would take its final turn, as he was hired as a Patrolman by Chief Leonard Bell. "I took the job with the police department and started Oct. 6, 1981," he remembered. "Later, I also worked under Kenny Parker, when he was appointed chief in 1983."
Over the course of the next 16 years Alstadt continued to serve the citizens of Piggott, and move up the ranks within the department. He was later appointed assistant chief with the retirement of Gene Bomar. "I served as the assistant chief for just a short time, and was appointed as the chief of police in 1999," he added.
And although he chose a career in police work, Alstadt's love of all things mechanical prompted him to continue his work for Rodery.
"I continued to work there part time there for awhile, while I was working the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift," he offered. "I would come home and get some rest and get up and go again--but I had kids at home and felt like I needed two jobs at the time. I also got a chance to run that new wrecker he had, and I really enjoyed that."
As a member of the Piggott PD, Alstadt notes he took great pleasure in having the chance to serve the community. "Since I've been with the department I've served under mayors George Cook, James Morris, Bud Holcomb, Gerald Morris and now Ramona Magee," he reminisced. "All-in-all it's been a great career, but there just comes a time when you feel like you need a change--and that's why I chose to retire now."
Actually, due to the way retirement time was formerly calculated for law enforcement personnel, Alstadt has been eligible for some time. "Back years ago the retirement for law enforcement was calculated differently but that's since changed," he noted. "But, regardless I've got just shy of 36 years and three months in service with the police department."
Of course, 35-plus years will bring change to any profession, and when asked about those Alstadt offers a simple gesture to the computer occupying the corner of his desk. "The technology and communications have really changed over the course of my career," he noted. "We've become more-and-more paperless, and everything is done on the computer and internet these days. We still keep paper copies of a lot of things, but much of our work now is done on computers--they've become an important part of the job."
The development of digital radio systems has also made the job of law enforcement much easier and safer in recent years. "When I started with the PD our old radio system would hardly reach across town," he added. "Now, we've got the new digital system and that has taken out all the static and hissing we used to have. And, the county has really improved their radio system too, I went to Little Rock the other day and could hear them clearly on my handheld unit."
In retrospect, he relates a story from the earlier days of his career when a communication break-down left him in unfamiliar territory.
"I started chasing this pickup one night here in town and he took off toward St. Francis," he remembered. "I chased them, but lost radio contact with Piggott almost right away-so I called Campbell and had them set-up a road block. But, when we got to the roadblock the guy went around it, and so did I, so the Campbell officer went on about his business."
But, Alstadt explained the chase did draw the attention of Dunklin County authorities, who noted the truck's license number belonged to a notorious local drug dealer. This prompted them to begin to try to locate Piggott officer, and the pickup he had been pursuing.
Alstadt remembers the chase ending as the truck came to a dead-end at a farm house, as the occupants bailed-out and ran. "This old man came out in the yard and I asked him where I was--then I heard one of the guys rustling around down in a fence row so I went down there and caught him and handcuffed him," he added. "Then, I heard the other one down the other way and went down and caught him too. Turned out the two guys had bought the truck from the drug dealer, but had never changed the tags, and they were just drinking and hanging around town."
He also added, with a smile, the Dunklin County deputies did eventually locate him and his suspects.
Although much of the advancements have been positive, Alstadt also notes the changing world has also affected the local department. "We don't have the same issues they face in a lot of cities, such as the problems they had in Ferguson and New York City, but all departments are required to address these things," he explained. "All of our officers must attend training sessions on the matter of racial bias, and it's verified by auditors with not only the state but also the federal government."
Alstadt also noted the development of electronic devices, especially cell phones and other handheld devices, has not only made the job easier--it has also added a new dimension to crime. "We get a lot of calls about stolen cell phones and other devices like that," he explained. "We deal with a lot of that these days."
During his decades of service Alstadt has also been active in the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, and serves on the advisory committee of the regional Law Enforcement Training Center at BRTC in Pocahontas.
"I attend all of the annual meetings of the chief's association, and have for years," he added. "It's very important for us to do all we can to make sure the small departments are represented and get their fair share of funds and such. Too often the money just goes to Little Rock and they spread it around and the smaller departments miss out."
And, despite the fact he is retiring from active duty he plans to continue to offer his experience and expertise to the organization. "I'm a lifetime member of the AACP and I intend to remain active in the association following my retirement," he added.
As for the immediate future Alstadt has a few solid plans. "Well I have had three job offers since I announced I was going to retire, but I'm not sure what will pan out," he added. "My wife has a list of projects she wants me to do around the house and then we'll see."
Alstadt also hopes to have time to return to his vocational roots, and work on the 1955 Chevrolet sitting in his garage. "My dad bought the car new from Hardcastle Chevrolet, and it's been in the family since," he explained. "My grandfather drove it for just a short time, but it has been licensed to either me or my dad since it was new."
Retirement will also afford Alstadt, and his wife, LaDonna, the opportunity to travel and enjoy one of their favorite pastimes--attending concerts. "We love to go to concerts, it's what we like to do and it's a great way to relax," he added. "Just recently we had the chance to see the Trans Siberian Orchestra in Little Rock, and before that we went to the Fleetwood Mac concert and were sitting just a little way from Bill and Hillary Clinton in the audience."
As for the job he leaves behind, Alstadt is confident the city is in good hands and has a bright future.
"We've got it pretty good here in Piggott, most of the crime we deal with is fairly minor in nature such as domestic incidents and the occasional theft," he noted. "We have had more problems in recent years with the issue of drugs, like meth, and being a border city with the state of Missouri sometimes offers its challenges--but, for the most part we've got it pretty good."
Later in the day Alstadt's retirement became final, as Mayor Ramona Magee officially appointed Don Poole as his replacement. And, on Monday the Piggott City Council voted to re-appoint Poole to the position during their annual organizational meeting.