The City of Springdale will keep its new ban on police escorts for funeral processions, following a special meeting held Tuesday night.
The Springdale Police Department announced last week it would quit escorting funeral processions. Chief Kathy O’Kelley said the practice depletes department resources and may be dangerous to motorists.
Alderman Jim Reed requested the city’s Police and Fire Committee tackle the subject at City Hall in Springdale on Tuesday. No action was taken at the meeting, and no recommendation was made to the Springdale City Council.
Several funeral home directors and members of the police department spoke at the meeting. Funeral home officials have said the disbanding of police funeral escorts leaves them without an immediate alternative for funeral processions. Police at the meeting echoed Mayor Doug Sprouse’s assertion that escorting funeral processions presents a safety concern for the city.
Sprouse released a letter early Tuesday to the citizens of Springdale concerning the police department’s choice to disband funeral escorts.
Sprouse said he appreciates the tradition of law enforcement officials escorting funeral processions, but the issue “boils down to public safety.”
“Because of that, the last week has been a very difficult time, but sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions in the interest of public safety,” he writes.
In the letter, Sprouse outlined his reasons for supporting the chief’s decision. One reason, he said, was Springdale’s diverse population.
“I’m sure that a large portion of our population has no history or awareness of this tradition that many of us remember and appreciate,” he writes. “I’m not only referencing our ethnic diversity, but also the many people who have moved here from around the nation.”
Sprouse also mentioned the younger population who may not have been “taught how to safely and respectfully observe a funeral procession.”
“They share the road with the rest of us,” he writes. “Like it or not, that’s simply a fact, and no love of a tradition can change that.”
Of the 10 largest cities in Arkansas, Sprouse said Springdale is the seventh to discontinue to the practice.
Depending on the route and length of the procession, funeral escorts could require up at 18 officers, Sprouse said.
“That’s more than an entire shift,” Sprouse writes. “Even if we dug deep and decided we couple pay overtime for off duty officers to come in, it’s questionable whether we could gather the needed manpower.”
The Springdale Police Department assisted in more than 200 escorts last year, according to Sprouse.
Funeral directors will still be allowed to conduct processions or hire a private firm to do so if they obey traffic laws and the lead car has flashing lights, Sprouse said.
“Again, this is not about respect for the deceased, it’s about safety for all the people who travel on our streets,” he writes.