Friday, January 20, 2017

TOP STORY >> Austin’s police chief takes oath

Leader staff writer

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain swore in Bill Duerson on Friday as the new police chief.

The position has been vacant since Nov. 18 after she fired Police Chief Jim Kulesa, saying she lost confidence in him.

“I’m very excited. I’ve worked 17 years for this. I’m blessed with a great support team in Austin, the surrounding cities and Lonoke County,” Duerson said after the ceremony.

Duerson, 37, said his uncle, Ronnie Fields was a Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy in the 1980s and sparked his interest in law enforcement.

Chamberlain said, “He was number one out of seven interviewed. He seems the perfect fit for us.”

The chief is a 1997 graduate of England High School. He started his police career in 1999 as a jailer at the Drew County Detention Center. Seven months later he was hired by the Monticello Police Department as dispatcher and part-time officer.

In 2002, he became an officer with the England Police Department where he was promoted to patrol lieutenant and K9 handler. Two years later he was hired by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office as a K9 deputy.

In 2007, he was a patrolman for the Lonoke Police Department. A year later he worked for the Prairie County Sheriff’s Office as an investigator assigned to the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force’s narcotics division. He served two years on the federal organized crime drug task force. Duerson was promoted in 2015 to chief deputy at the Prairie County Sheriff’s Office until being hired by Austin.

Duerson’s annual salary is $32,000, plus insurance.

“Lonoke County has been my home growing up. I made several relationships in the law enforcement while with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office. When the position opened here, I felt my heart was led to Austin,” Duerson said.

Duerson said the police department is in a reorganization phase.

“We have a wonderful team, and we welcome the community’s input. We are going to have a better direct connection with the community,” he said.

The chief said an entry-level patrol officer position is open.