UAMS Police Protect and Serve: ‘We Are Very Safe Here’

By Benjamin Waldrum

“We do a lot of things that other agencies don’t do,” said Chief Robert Barrentine.

The UAMS PD is officially recognized as UAMS’s law enforcement agency. All officers are certified by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. Barrentine became chief in February 2016 after 24 years with the Tyler Police Department in Tyler, Texas.

In addition to securing the large UAMS campus in Little Rock, the UAMS PD’s duties involve coordinating with nearby areas and with UAMS sites all across Arkansas.

The UAMS Little Rock campus is “like a small city,” Barrentine said, with roughly 8,000 employees and around 2,700 students to look after. He said that UAMS has a very low crime rate, especially for a campus of its size, but there is always a need to stay vigilant.

“You’ve got patients and families who are stressed, and staff and students are stressed,” Barrentine said. “We had a pandemic for a couple of years. Everybody’s under pressure.”

The department has to be prepared for multiple scenarios on any given day. At times they’re on hand to diffuse tense situations with patients or family members. They also assist at the Emergency Department and inpatient units at the Psychiatric Research Institute. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAMS PD took charge of streamlining drive-thru testing lanes, working long hours directing vehicles and ensuring a calm, orderly process.

On average, the department handles more than 100 patient encounters every month. That includes escorting and monitoring between 10-20 inpatient and outpatient prisoners each week.

“You don’t see that at a lot of universities,” Barrentine said. “A lot of people don’t realize that’s going on every day at the hospital. Prisoners have surgeries just like anybody else.”

The department performs a wide range of duties every day to keep the campus safe.

Department staff monitor 468 panic alarms on the UAMS Little Rock campus alone, Barrentine said, in addition to thousands of security cameras at locations across the state. Uniformed officers patrol the campus 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The department also makes sure the Emergency Department is locked down and safe when gunshot victims come in, day or night. Staff also help coordinate drug take-back campaigns and conduct regular trainings on active shooters and workplace violence.

The UAMS PD also coordinates with UAMS Regional Campuses and the University of Arkansas, and covers non-UAMS areas including Arkansas Children’s and War Memorial Stadium. Barrentine said the department maintains “a special relationship” with the neighboring Arkansas State Hospital and assists with patients there as well. There are many different responsibilities.

At full strength, the department would have more than 60 law enforcement and civilian staff. However, they have been operating with roughly one out of every three positions unfilled. That’s due in part to a lack of funding and a shortage of officers nationwide, Barrentine said.

“This is a customer service-oriented profession,” Barrentine said. “The climate we’re working in now is tough, and it’s tough for any law enforcement officer.”

Officers typically work 12-hour shifts, which can be extended when emergencies arise. Those shifts often begin before dawn and end in the evening, after normal work hours. On their days off, sometimes officers are required to appear in court for subpoenas. When a patient can’t afford a meal or a ride home, officers often pay for it out of their own pocket.

Despite the limited resources and demands of the job, the police are here to help, Barrentine said.

“Crime comes here, and our job is to keep it out as much as we can,” he added. “We are very safe here at UAMS.”