Sheriff holds second town hall meeting

Published on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 22:50 - Written by FAITH HARPER

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith highlighted changes within the department and answered public inquiries at a town hall meeting in downtown Tyler Tuesday evening.

Smith said the meeting, held at 304 E. Ferguson, was the second held to help keep the agency as transparent as possible to the public. The first was held in mid-August in Whitehouse.

“It’s your sheriff’s office, it’s not mine,” Smith said. “My definition of (transparency) it’s not sharing the good things and hiding the bad things; it’s to put it all out on the table.”

Smith made an hourlong presentation highlighting improvements in the agency since he took office and goals it hopes to reach.

Smith said the department is looking for ways to keep more deputies in all corners of the county during their shifts. He said shifts were changed to 12-hours with two hours overlapping in between to put more deputies on the streets.

The next stage, Smith said, will be to host the deputies’ daily briefings on an iPad so they can be in their patrol cars or at specified locations without having to travel downtown. The department also is working with area cities to possibly store vehicles to further cut down travel time.

The sheriff also highlighted efforts to work with other agencies to more efficiently clear cases.

“It’s going to take a little work, and it’s going to take a little trust building, but I see no reason why a countywide drug enforcement unit can’t work, where all of those narcotics officers — or at least some from each agency — are under one roof working on one drug defendant and pulling our resources with the federal government working with the DEA, ATF, FBI and Homeland Security,” he said.

Smith said the U.S. Marshal’s Office in Tyler is also discussing ramping up its fugitive task force, and the sheriff’s office has been asked to participate.

“It’s especially good for us because it is physically here in Tyler and Smith County,” he said. “We can give them many of our violent felony warrants that aren’t getting served because we have so many. ... We can utilize them for that instead of those warrants getting stale and waiting for someone to get stopped on a traffic stop.”

The sheriff also discussed training plans to make operations more efficient. He said eight patrol officers will be trained as “investigative patrol officers,” and will receive detective and crime scene training.

“We are losing a lot of (evidence) because we can’t afford on all cases to call out our major crime scene unit to” collect fingerprints and evidence, he said. “I’m ready to put two on each shift and train them on what they need to do (so) we aren’t losing that anymore.”

As the sheriff spoke, attendees wrote down questions for the sheriff to answer. Questions included inquiries on the budget, equipment, retaining of good personnel, the war on drugs and if the sheriff was in favor of checkpoints.

Smith said the county already is actively working with other agencies during DWI campaigns. He said in the past, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers would have to take a suspected drunken driver to the hospital and wait for blood to be drawn, but the protocol has changed.

“We put money in the jail budget to cover blood draws …” he said. “We need these people in jail not in the hospital waiting room.”

Smith said there are three more town-hall meetings planned. The next one is will be in Lindale within a month, and others will follow in Bullard and the Winona area.