Van Buren police officers were simply doing something their chief said they “do every day” when they answered a call for help last fall at the home of Bill and Ellen Melton.

Their care and compassion was rewarded when the Meltons donated $30,000 to the police department which, in turn, is using the funds to launch the department’s first motorcycle unit.

“Many months ago I got a call from a lady who asked if there was an officer who could answer a call to help her with her husband at their house,” Van Buren Chief of Police Jamie Hammond told the city council at the start of its meeting Monday night. “An officer showed up, helped the man, treated him with compassion and helped with whatever they needed help with and that was it. It was just something we do every single day.”

Ellen Melton, whose husband Bill passed away earlier this year, told Hammond “she was so impressed by the way she and her husband were treated by our officers, the compassion they gave to her husband, that she wanted to make a donation to the police department.”

Hammond, who said the department was appreciative of any donation, offered her a couple of options on how she could go about honoring the department and its officers.

“We told her about a couple different options and she said she wanted to make a donation that would make a significant impact in our community and our department,” he said. “I had no idea how much of a donation she was talking about.”

When she told Hammond she wanted to make a donation “somewhere in the neighborhood of $35-40,000” he said he got together with his staff to see what the department needed.

“We came to the conclusion that we didn’t have a motorcycle unit in our department and that our city was big enough to have one,” said Hammond, “and that we could certainly make good use of one, so we decided that’s what we’d like to do.”

The situation then took an ironic turn when Hammond called Ellen to tell her what they had come up with.

“I called her back and said, ‘After a lot of thinking and planning, this is what we want to do,’” he said. “You could tell she was overcome with emotion. And it was at that time she told me her husband Bill had been a police officer in California for over 16 years and was a motorcycle police officer. So we thought this was meant to be.”

The family’s donation ended up being $30,000, which was enough to cover the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide law enforcement motorcycle as well as accessories, a uniform for the motorcycle officer and driving lessons at a facility in Nebraska.

“Corporal Chuck Green, who has been with the department over seven years, went to a school in Omaha, Neb., that’s put on by Harley Davidson that teaches you the proper way to ride a police motorcycle,” Hammond said. “A lot of people have motorcycle endorsements, but this is much more than that.”

Hammond joked that Green said he “lost track of how many times he lost control of the motorcycle and had to lay it down” during the training, adding, “Hopefully he got that out of his system.”

Green, who rode the motorcycle to Monday night’s meeting, was to start his service on the motorcycle the next day on the streets of the city. 

“We’ll mainly use it for traffic enforcement, accident investigations, follow-up investigations like in the case of hit-and-run drivers, things like that,” said Hammond.

After posing for pictures with the members of the Melton family who were in attendance, Green started the motorcycle and gave them a demonstration in the parking lot of how it handled and some of the turning procedures he had learned in Nebraska.

Hammond read a statement from the Melton family to the city council. The statement said, “We would like to thank all the police officers that put themselves in harm’s way every day. Bill was born and raised in Arkansas and was a motorcycle police officer and served 16 years on a police force in California. He comes from a long line of police officers and he would be extremely proud to know that this was donated in his name.”

Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst said he was both shocked and proud when Hammond first told him about the donation.

“I was really taken aback when I talked to Chief Hammond about it, when she had told us her intention to want to donate to the department,” he said after Monday night’s meeting. “Anytime you get a donation you’re thankful and excited to hear their experience working with the police department, how they had such a great experience with them. It really made me proud and should make the city proud to know that our employees, our departments, are doing everything they can to help.”

He added, “This is just a great way to honor our police department and to honor how (Bill Melton) was a motorcycle police officer. We’re thankful for it. We hope to improve the police department with this purchase and use that motorcycle in ways that will hopefully help us keep people safe in ways we couldn’t without it.”