ALMA — At 10:42 Wednesday morning the Alma Police Department received a 911 call that the Arvest Bank on Hwy. 64 in Alma had been robbed.
At 10:58 the suspect was spotted near the Bobby Hopper Tunnel on I-49 and shortly after he was in police custody after an exchange of gun shots that left officers unharmed and the alleged robber in stable condition at Fayetteville’s Washington Regional Medical Center.
The quick and timely arrest was made possible by the cooperation of many organizations, starting with the Alma Police Department.
“Initially we spread out in the area,” Alma Det. Jeremy Caldwell said Thursday morning. “Luckily there were some neighboring agencies that were in Alma — Arkansas Highway Police, Arkansas State Police and Arkansas Game & Fish actually had some officers pretty close — so we spread out in Alma looking for the suspect’s vehicle.”
Once APD made certain the suspect was no longer in the immediate area of the bank, officers returned to the bank to secure that crime scene while broadcasting a description of the suspect and the vehicle he was driving.
“We had multiple witnesses in and around the bank that were giving us information,” Caldwell said. “But Arkansas State Police were the first ones to make contact with him on I-49.”
Caldwell said more units from APD then jumped into the search while the APD dispatcher kept feeding information to other agencies.
“We had some units respond from the police department — another detective, the chief and a captain — go out to help with the search,” he said. “But through our dispatch center we were able to talk to Crawford County, Van Buren, Fort Smith and the state and highway police and tell them the description of the suspect’s vehicle. State police was actually able to get on directly. They knew the suspect’s vehicle we were looking for when we were out looking before we even got back to the bank. So they were out looking on the highways while we were going back to the bank.”
He added, “You can’t outrun the radio. That’s the best weapon we’ve got.”
And as is usually the case, there were many entities listening and eager to help.
“When a call like this goes out on the radio, especially in Crawford County, everybody’s going to help,” said Caldwell.
“There’s such a great relationship with everybody in the county. But you’re talking about an area where some of the guys in the state police used to be Crawford County Sheriff’s Department deputies. We’ve got guys in our department who used to be sheriff’s deputies. We’ve got guys from our department who are on highway police now. Everybody knows each other and they’ve worked with each other, sometimes in the same agencies. So everybody’s pretty close.
“You can just pick up the phone and ask for help and it’s here,” he continued. “A lot of times on something like this they just show up and say, ‘What do you need?’”
The last robbery in Alma took place in 2014 when Citizens Bank and Trust on Hwy. 71 was robbed. That is still an open case and continues to be worked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Citizens Bank and Trust was also robbed in 1933 by the infamous Barrow Brothers — Buck and Clyde. In that robbery, Buck shot and killed Alma Marshall Henry Humphrey, the eighth officer killed by the Barrow Brothers and the only Alma officer to have ever died in the line of duty.
A plaque at the Alma Police Department on Fayetteville Avenue commemorates Humphrey’s death.
Caldwell said Wednesday’s encounter could also have turned deadly if not for the quick work of law enforcement officials.
“From (the suspect’s) actions it was going to be a hostile interaction no matter who made contact with him,” Caldwell said. “We can’t thank state police enough for what they did.”
Caldwell added, “We want to thank everybody at Arvest. They did exactly what they were supposed to do in a robbery. And we want to thank all our local agencies that assisted us and were able to capture the suspect in a very short period of time.”