SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) -Each of the four Smith County Sheriff Candidates were given a questionnaire comprised of questions that were developed in large-part by members of our audience. A while back, followers of the KLTV Facebook page were asked what question they'd ask the Smith County Sheriff Candidates themselves, if given the chance. These questions, in conjunction with hot-button items developed by members of the KLTV staff, are listed below, with the candidate's responses (denoted by italics)
**NOTE: ABSOLUTELY NO EDITS WERE MADE TO THE CANDIDATE'S RESPONSES.**
1. Technology is constantly changing and advancing; what technological advances would you like to introduce to the Smith County Sheriff's Department?
Technological advances that would improve the safety and security of the Sheriff's deputies and enhance our ability to solve crimes committed against our citizens will be a top priority. I have already introduced Smith County to the Spheron 360° camera system and the Total Station for Forensic Mapping. Because of this, Smith County is already among the cutting-edge counties using this technology. These instruments allow for crime scene documentation, which enhances many facets of a criminal investigation. After introducing this new technology to our District Attorney's office subsequent to the 2010 Church Fires Investigation, DA Matt Bingham purchased the equipment. I trained Texas Ranger Brent Davis in its implementation. It is currently being utilized in trials in Smith County. Another needed technology is a GPS system in the departmental vehicles that would allow Sheriff's Office communications to know the location of each vehicle for more effective and efficient dispatching of officers. Intermediate "use of force" technology – such as tasers – should be utilized; however, the proper training with these tools must be provided prior to implementation. Each patrol deputy should be equipped with and trained on the use of basic technology such as fingerprint lifting and the use of digital cameras for the collection of physical evidence at crime scenes, such burglaries. This cross-training and wise use of technology will increase our likelihood of solving burglaries for our citizens because even our patrol officers will be prepared with basic crime scene training and the right tools to do the job!
2. What are immediate changes, say in your first 90 days in office, that you'd like to make if elected?
1) My first change would be to improve the communications and patrol divisions. I would do this by creating smaller patrol zones for the patrol officers and by utilizing reserve deputies, thus putting more personnel on rural subdivision streets and county roads immediately. 2) The communications division needs a supervisory-trained and experienced deputy onsite fielding calls from the public and assisting the communications personnel in responding quickly, properly, and professionally to our citizens. 3) I would also immediately review the policy and procedure manual and institute needed revisions. The updated/upgraded policy and procedure manual will be distributed to each employee; they will be required to read and sign off on the manual in order to hold them accountable. In addition, I would immediately raise the bar regarding expectations for the highest standards of conduct, professionalism, and job duties for each of the employees of the Sheriff's Office and again "hold them accountable." 4) There will be a staffing review. I will put the proper personnel in the proper positions for which they are best trained and suited. I will then provide them with the short-range and long-range goals of the Sheriff's Office; provide them with the training, tools, equipment, and roadmap of how to achieve those goals, and then get out of their way and allow them to do their job. I will never ask my staff to do anything I would not be prepared to do myself.
3. We asked people on our social media sites what they would like to ask you as a candidate for Sheriff; one of the things that came up several times was the issue of response time, especially for people who live in the far northern reaches of the county. For example, one man alleges that he called in a possible shooting and the response time was over an hour, according to him. What will be done to assure residents on the perimeter of Smith County that they will receive prompt, consistent law enforcement protection from the Sheriff's office?
The answer to this question was provided in #2 above. More deputies on the streets with smaller geographical areas of responsibility and the appropriate use of seasoned and experienced reserve deputies will go a long way in providing better response time for service calls. If elected, I also plan to put two criminal investigators on a rotating shift with patrol. This will allow the criminal investigators to teach patrol officers what is needed at crime scenes to properly preserve crime scene evidence. This is absolutely essential in raising our ability to solve crimes, such as burglaries.
4. What approach will you use as Sheriff to hold your employees accountable to the policies and laws of the county and state?
I will lead the men and women of the Sheriff's Office by example, never asking them to do anything I haven't already done or wouldn't do. As stated in # 2 above, I will update the policy and procedure manuals of the Sheriff's Office and hold each employee accountable. There will not be one set of rules for specific individuals and another set of rules for the others. Under my leadership, each employee will be treated equally. Every employee will have an opportunity to excel. I will implement the first ever Internal Affairs Office within the Sheriff's Office. One investigator will be responsible for the investigation of each policy and law violation by a Sheriff's Office employee. I will also form and utilize a review board of staff and support personnel to review policy violations, and they will also be charged with recommending to me the punishment or solutions to be handed down for those violations. We will run a Sheriff's Office with the highest ethical standards and the highest expectations for all staff. We will serve our citizens with visible integrity and respect.
5. Sheriff Smith, as you know, has served Smith County as sheriff for more than 30 years. Do you feel that is too long to serve? If so, how long should you, as sheriff, serve?
The voting public is the "term-limiting mechanism" to this question since our state constitution does not limit the term of a County Sheriff. As long as the Sheriff is providing first-rate leadership to the Sheriff's Office and the public, he/she should be allowed to serve. In the situation of Sheriff Smith, he has provided some positive things to the Sheriff's Office and to this county; however, I believe he has lost some interest over the past several years and has not kept up with the technology and hiring practices that would have made the department better. From the very beginning, I have stated that I want to serve long enough to raise the profile of the Smith County Sheriff's Department so that it is known throughout this county (and across the state) as a place where citizens are respected and where their tax dollars are maximized. I want the Smith County Sheriff's Office to be known for its professionalism, its effective and productive professional investigations, and for its pro-active approach to deter crime. Our number one goal will always be to protect the life, liberty, and property of the citizens of Smith County. We want to deliver the highest quality service at the very best price. Once we have achieved those things, it will be time for me to retire with my wife, while I still have enough "youth" to enjoy retirement with some grandkids. I certainly do not plan to run for this office for 30 years!
6. Sheriff Smith has long served as the gatekeeper of public information for the office. What would you do to enhance communication with local media entities and, by extension, the public you serve? Would you assign a deputy as a full-time Public Information official?
There are several ideas I would consider implementing in this area. First of all, I recognize the fact that the public has a right to know what is going on with their Sheriff's Office. The media is one of the ways information is transmitted to the public. I will never transfer my responsibilities to anyone else when it comes to major issues. I will interact with the media and public on major issues. On the day-to-day issues of the Sheriff's Office, I plan to designate an officer as a Public Information Officer who will interact on a daily basis with the public and media. I also plan to provide updated information to the general public via social media and a web site. The current web site for the Sheriff's Office could use a major overhaul and should be an avenue for the public to receive current information from the Sheriff's Office of events such as jail inmate roster, where burglaries are occurring within the county, etc. The bottom line is: if I am elected Sheriff, the buck stops with me. I will never, ever duck and dodge the media or put up a wall between myself and the public.
7. What will happen to the current staff if you are elected Sheriff? Will there be sweeping changes, or will you retain people in leadership?
There are some very dedicated and competent employees in the Smith County Sheriff's Office. I do believe they currently lack the leadership to do their job to the degree it should be done in order to exemplify excellence. I have already been looking at current leadership positions within the Sheriff's Office. Should I take office, some of the leadership positions will be changed, and I will put each employee in the proper position they should be in to provide Smith County with the best service the Sheriff's Office can deliver to the citizens. The traits I deem most important are character, integrity, training, experience, leadership ability, and respect for the badge and the citizens.
8. Many people in our jail today are there for some drug-related offense. Do you feel that current court-supervised treatments for drug offenders are successful in reducing costs and crime rate related to drug-related offenses? What would you do to improve this, if anything?
I agree 100% that many of the inmates in the Smith County Jail are there for drug related offenses. I believe strongly that we shouldn't be treating the symptoms, but should be addressing the problems. Burglary, robbery, forgery, theft and many homicides are nothing more than symptoms of the much larger problem of illicit drugs. I will implement a very aggressive drug enforcement division within the Sheriff's Office. Additionally, I plan on coordinating and working with the Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics personnel, Tyler Police Department Drug Unit and the Drug Enforcement Administration in combatting illicit drugs. Once the drug problem is addressed, the other symptomatic problems I listed above will be directly affected and will decrease. Much of the intelligence gathering is achieved by a strong drug enforcement unit. Many residential burglaries are cleared by a strong drug enforcement unit. Finally, and unfortunately, I don't believe the programs are working very well now. It has been my experience that unless you are able to provide the drug dependent treatment to the individual while they are incarcerated, it is not successful. I will work with area ministries to provide opportunities for inmates to turn their lives around. This will be patterned after the best practices of the chaplain program in the Collin County Jail under the direction of Sheriff Terry Box. They have greatly reduced the recidivism rate in their jail with this program, and I deeply believe such a program will work here.
9. Another Smith County resident shared this question on social media: will you consider housing federal inmates or inmates from other counties in the new jail as added income for Smith County?
Not only would I do this, I have already contacted the US Marshal's Service and put them in contact with several Commissioners regarding such an opportunity. The US Marshal's Service believes they can house around one hundred federal inmates in the new jail facility. This will provide several positive things to the citizens of Smith County. First, the pay for housing federal inmates is about two times what we pay to house our State inmates out of county. By housing around one hundred federal inmates on a daily basis, this will provide about $8500 per day to the county, which can be utilized to pay the new jail debt off more quickly. Second, the federal inmates are now being housed in Gregg County, Harrison County and Bowie County. These inmates are going to trial mostly at the Federal Courthouse in Tyler. As federal taxpayers, it is not very cost effective to have to transport these inmates back and forth from these other cities to Tyler. Additionally, many of these federal inmates utilize the Federal Public Defender's Office at taxpayers' expense. In order to prepare for trial, these public defenders are required to travel to these jails in other counties in order to prepare for trial. This incurs additional expense to the taxpaying public. Housing the federal inmates here will reduce the costs of public defenders. Third, I would also be open for discussion with Homeland Security Investigations to house illegal aliens from Smith County as well as surrounding counties as a collection point for transport by Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE). By being a collection point, we have an avenue to collect those persons at a central location who have illegally entered and remain in the United States. If we serve as a collections point in Smith County, ICE will be more likely to transport. This will also provide more revenue to Smith County in order to pay the jail bonds off sooner. Saving hard-earned tax dollars for the citizens will always be a high priority for me. I will constantly work with the Commissioners Court, the District Attorney, the Judiciary, and other area law enforcement to stretch tax dollars and look for ways to reduce our costs, while providing high quality service. Copyright 2012 KLTV. All rights reserved.