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Ralph Downing Scott Sr. (1914–2005)

Ralph Downing Scott Sr. had a long career in law enforcement and served as director of the Arkansas State Police during most of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration. In this capacity, Scott enacted many reforms to the Arkansas State Police that improved the professionalism of the department.

Ralph Scott was born in McCaskill (Hempstead County) on February 2, 1914, to Burton L. Scott and Grace Bonner Scott. He was the oldest of the couple’s three sons and graduated in 1931 from high school in Prescott (Nevada County). He received a BA in chemistry from Hendrix College in 1935. In 1939, he received a Bachelor of Commercial Science in accounting from Southeastern University in Washington DC. Scott married Ruth Hirst in 1940, and the couple had one child, Ralph D. Scott Jr.

Scott’s law enforcement career began with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935 when he was employed in the Identification Division in Washington DC. In 1939, he became a special agent for the FBI, serving in field offices in Detroit, Michigan; New York; and Little Rock (Pulaski County), as well as at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC. He was the supervisor for crime investigations related to white-collar crimes. He retired from the FBI at Little Rock in 1964.

Scott taught chemistry and physics at Camden High School from 1964 to 1967. On July 1, 1967, Scott began working for the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in East Camden (Ouachita County) and assisted in the preparation of the basic training curriculum used by the academy. He was working in this capacity when Governor Rockefeller appointed him to head the Arkansas State Police (ASP) on February 28, 1968.

Numerous significant changes took place during Scott’s tenure (as director of the Arkansas State Police, he held the rank of colonel), amounting to a reorganization of the ASP. The qualifications for incoming state troopers became more stringent, requiring applicants to be high school graduates plus have sixty college hours, or to promise to earn those hours in the first five years of employment. Applicants also had to have a minimum intelligence quotient (IQ) of 103, based on the Otis Scale.

In April 1968, Scott created the ASP Office of Public Information to inform the public about newsworthy events concerning the ASP. Information about accidents, major crimes, weather conditions, disasters, civil disturbances, transfer of personnel, and other topics was made readily available to the public.

Another of Scott’s improvements was the establishment of the ASP Library in November 1969. The library was funded through grants, private donations, and monies from existing departmental publications. Another 1969 Scott initiative was a comprehensive program to identify and rehabilitate problem drivers, especially those who routinely drove while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who were habitual violators of traffic laws.

Early in Scott’s career as director of the ASP, a conflict arose between Scott and Governor Rockefeller. On March 18, 1969, Scott announced his resignation. According to the Arkansas Gazette editorial of March 20, 1969, “The issue arose after a State Police major had been arrested for alleged drunk driving and Rockefeller, evidently unconvinced of the major’s culpability, sought to intervene in the major’s behalf.” Scott received support from Attorney General Joe Purcell, the Arkansas House of Representatives, and newspaper editors around the state, including newspapers that had always been favorable to Rockefeller. On April 2, 1969, Governor Rockefeller announced that he would not accept Scott’s resignation. Rockefeller had his decision hand-delivered to Scott, who stated that he was “very grateful.”

By 1970, Scott instituted a training policy that required troopers to complete at least fifty hours annually of in-service training. He also created a policy requiring that ASP personnel be hired, promoted, transferred, or fired based on their job performance and the needs of the ASP, as opposed to political considerations. When Scott became director of the ASP, there was only one African American in the trooper ranks, Marion Taylor, the ASP’s first black trooper. By the time of Scott’s departure from the ASP in 1971, three more black troopers had been added to the force.

Other improvements that Scott introduced included a change from a six ten-hour days of work per week for troopers to five ten-hour days of work per week, as well as the department paying the moving expenses of ASP personnel when they were transferred. Scott also championed better retirement compensation for ASP personnel; this resulted in ACT 144 of 1969, which increased the employer retirement contribution from five percent in 1969 to six percent in 1970 and to seven percent in 1971 and thereafter. Additionally, the beginning monthly salary and benefits of newly commissioned state troopers rose significantly during Scott’s tenure.

Scott resigned as director of the ASP effective May 1, 1971. At that time, he was quoted by the Arkansas Gazette as saying, “Progress in professionalism is my greatest pride.”

Scott then went to work for Pulaski County as law enforcement coordinator of the Alcohol Safety Action Project. He resigned from his position with Pulaski County on February 28, 1973, and moved to Camden (Ouachita County). He served as interim chief of police for a short time before entering full retirement. He later moved to Conway (Faulkner County) and wrote histories of the First United Methodist Church of Conway and the First Presbyterian Church of Conway.

Scott died on March 8, 2005, and was cremated.

For additional information:
Jones, Jimmy. “ASP Director Resigns.” Arkansas Gazette, March 19, 1969, pp 1A, 2A.

Lindsey, Michael. The Big Hat Law: Arkansas and Its State Police, 1935–2000. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2008.

Ralph D. Scott Papers. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.

“Scott Terms End of Spoils Greatest Pride.” Arkansas Gazette, April 17, 1971, p. 5A.

Jimmy Bryant
University of Central Arkansas

Last Updated 12/10/2013

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