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Dallas County Sheriff's doing Traffic only


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  • Dallas County Sheriff's doing Traffic only

    Dallas' sheriff hopes patrol merger is the ticket to more revenue

    12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, August 17, 2008
    By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News
    [email protected]

    The Dallas County Sheriff Department's patrol division – a unit with a 75-year history – soon will be absorbed into the larger traffic division, a victim of changing county demographics and budgetary constraints.

    Ironically, the 100-deputy traffic division was created in 2000 by sheriff's commanders determined to protect their department's law-enforcement capabilities and prevent its focus from being trained solely on its jail operations.

    But this year's budgetary crisis – and threat of wholesale personnel cuts – prompted Sheriff Lupe Valdez to consolidate the two divisions as a way of boosting ticket revenue.

    Deputies in the combined traffic/patrol division still will respond to calls in the county's shrinking unincorporated area, but it primarily will be responsible for patrolling freeways south of downtown.

    "Every time government cuts, you expect individuals to do more for less. Patrol/traffic will be no different," Sheriff Valdez said.

    But some worry that the change will mean fewer day-to-day patrols in the unincorporated areas, where about 9,000 people live. Earlier this year, the sheriff ceased midnight patrols there because of budget constraints.

    Sgt. Greg Porter, chairman of the sheriff's association, said deputies won't regularly patrol unincorporated areas, limiting their crime preventive measures.

    Few details about the consolidation have been released, other than that the division will have a southeast and southwest sector. Sheriff Valdez said that the particulars are being worked out and that she realizes her deputies will have to "work a little harder."

    Meanwhile, the traffic division, which works accidents and enforces traffic laws on the county's freeways, has produced mixed results.

    Falling short

    The Sheriff's Department won approval for its freeway program with the promise that it would allow municipal police officers to spend more time in neighborhoods.

    Commissioners embraced the idea because it promised to pay for itself with ticket revenue. And the chiefs said the unit could cut harmful emissions from traffic congestion by clearing highway wrecks faster.

    But not all of the promised revenue has appeared, mostly because the county has done a poor job collecting fines (more than $170 million in sheriff and constable tickets is outstanding). Revenue figures were unavailable, but county officials say the unit sometimes fails to cover its costs.

    And statistics show deputies are taking longer to clear accidents.

    In 2004, they took an average of 16 minutes to clear a freeway wreck. But in 2006, it was up to 21 minutes. And last year, the unit took 45 minutes to clear wrecks despite having more deputies, according to county budget office statistics.

    Still, that's better than the 60 to 90 minutes Dallas police needed to clear accidents.

    Sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Leach said the unit's efficiency was hurt when 50 deputies were temporarily reassigned to the jails last year to cover staffing shortages. The clearance and response times are within established goals, she said, adding that it takes time to train new deputies.

    Sheriff's citations are up about 40 percent since 2004, with 43,338 of them written last fiscal year.

    That isn't surprising to some current and former deputies. The freeway initiative, the only one of its kind in Texas, has always been about generating ticket revenue for the county, said Stan Thedford, a former freeway unit supervisor.

    Commissioner John Wiley Price disputed that, saying public safety was always his priority, along with alleviating freeway congestion.

    Sgt. Porter said revenue shouldn't be the primary goal. "We are not supposed to be out there making money. We're supposed to be taking care of people," he said.

    Budget needs

    The consolidation of the freeway and patrol divisions, expected to be completed by Oct. 1, was one of Sheriff Valdez's ideas for using new revenue to offset the need for cuts.

    She is being asked to trim $6.5 million from her budget to help close the county's $34 million budget shortfall. Her freeway unit has grown from a $1.5 million operation in 2001 to one costing nearly $7 million. The number of deputies has quadrupled.

    But Sheriff Valdez can't make any cuts to the program because of the federal COPS grant that pays $25,000 of each new freeway deputy's salary for three years. In return, the county has to fund the positions for at least one year after the grant expires.

    The Sheriff's Department estimated the new freeway/patrol unit will generate an additional $2.5 million in ticket revenue, assuming patrol deputies will be able to keep up with the freeway deputies' average of 6.1 citations per day.

    That idea has satisfied commissioners, who no longer want to cut the patrol or criminal investigations divisions.

    Mr. Price and the county's top administrator had recently questioned the need for a patrol unit with as many as 54 deputies, given changes to the unincorporated areas.

    Only about 8 percent of the county is unincorporated. Most of it is rural land in the floodplain in southeastern Dallas County. During the past decade, the area has shrunk 20 percent, with only 78 square miles left.

    However, its population has increased about 54 percent over the past 20 years. Even so, the department still had 5.8 patrol deputies for every 1,000 residents – more than twice the national average and considerably higher than departments in Harris, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties.

    Meanwhile, violent crime fell 53 percent from 2003 to 2006, according to statistics reported to the federal government. Property crimes haven't changed much, but burglaries were down 51 percent over the same period.

    Patrol deputies have been responding to fewer calls for service, county statistics show. And while arrests were up last fiscal year, detectives are investigating fewer offenses in the unincorporated areas, according to the budget office.

    Sgt. Porter said he thinks commissioners still will try to eliminate the agency's patrol deputies and detectives. And that, he fears, will lead to a transfer of law enforcement duties to county constables, who already have been given traffic and expanded warrant units.

    "Something's got to give when you start cutting back people," he said.

  • #2
    That sounds about right with the views of policing now and days


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