Hays County sheriff candidates Tommy Rattliff, left, and Gary Cutler, right. Photos by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
In November 2008, Allen Bridges won election to be returned to office as the sheriff of Hays County. One month later, Bridges died suddenly of a heart attack.
A highly charged process to pick Bridges’ replacement occupied the Hays County Commissioners Court into the holidays. The court selected retired Texas Ranger Tommy Rattliff, with the four Democrats on the court in his favor and the one Republican opposed.
As he promised, Rattliff is running for the remainder of the term, as a Democrat. He is opposed by Republican Gary Cutler, a police officer with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) who previously held various positions in the sheriff’s offices of Travis and Williamson Counties.
San Marcos Local News put the same set of questions to each candidate for Hays County sheriff. The questions and answers are presented unedited, except for punctuation and publication style.
San Marcos Local News: Should some or all cities in the county begin contributing to the operation and maintenance of the jail in proportion to the level that their police officers use the jail? Why or why not?
Tommy Ratliff: This is something that’s certainly been talked about. I’ve discussed this, actually — I discussed this issue with the mayor of San Marcos about a year ago, and we all know that most counties in the State of Texas right now charge any cities in the county to put people in the jail. That’s been going on for many years at a lot of places, and different sheriffs that I talked to were pretty surprised that we don’t do that. We’re one of the few that doesn’t do that. And it’s an issue that I think in some time will have to be addressed. And when exactly that will be — I’ve actually brought it up to some of the commissioners before, and to the (county) judge. I believe that the entities, because of all the stuff and because of the amount of people in the jail that are being put in our jail — that’s going to be something that’s going to have to be seriously considered so they can help us defer some of the costs of the jail.
Gary Cutler: Taxpayers are paying their taxes, and that’s what’s operating the sheriff’s department, and that’s what operates the jail. But then your municipalities, the taxpayers live there — they may have city taxes where they live, but they’re also paying county taxes, so they are paying for the operation of the jail. I feel like the taxpayers are paying right now, as far as — they are paying because you pay your county taxes that goes into your county budget, and that’s how your jail is operated. So, the taxpayers, whether you live in the city, or whether you live outside of the city limits somewhere, you’re still paying county taxes to operate the jail. So that would be really — if you’re talking about tax base on people, they would be double-taxing these people, and they’re already paying the taxes to operate the jail. If you make an arrest, for example, you arrest a guy tonight for DWI in Kyle, and he goes to jail and he gets out on bond, then he’s answerable to the county court system for his charges. And whether he receives a probated sentence or not, that goes through the county system, too. So, it’s ultimately going to end up being handled in the county. That is an interesting question, because that would be real hard to do. If a municipality only puts five people in the jail in one month, and the next month they put three in, and the next month they put 20 in, that would be difficult to keep up with how they would base that on. Because once you’re booked into jail, a lot of people are released on bond, most people are — it depends upon the nature of the charge. If you’re out on bond and then you go through the county court system, then you could be sentenced to the county jail. You shouldn’t tax the city when the case is disposed of in criminal court and he’s sentenced to 30 days in county jail, six months in county jail.
SMLN: According to the MGT Study (authorized by the commissioners court about a year ago and released in April), electronic monitoring (ELM) is sometimes used as condition of probation, which allows offenders who need close monitoring to be supervised without being incarcerated and occupying jail space. Local jails also can operate ELM or global positioning system (GPS) monitoring programs and can, with court approval, release qualifying, low risk inmates from jail on electronic home monitoring. According to the MGT Study, neither the Hays County probation office nor the sheriff’s office is operating any type of ELM or GPS monitoring program for offenders. The MGT Study recommended that the commissioners court determine the feasibility of establishing a local ELM program as a way of keeping its jail population numbers low while developing alternative supervision options that insure a safe community. What is your stance with regard to ELM? Do you support an ELM or GPS monitoring program at the jail?
Cutler: Yes, I do. Yes, I do support it, and I think it is a good concept and it’s been proven, and I think it will work. Now, as far as who actually is going to end up doing the monitoring — because once a person is given the, through the courts, (once) he’s allowed to go on a monitoring system, he’s been, I would say — the courts have looked at him to see if he’s any kind of risk. If they feel he’s not a risk, an immediate danger to anyone or the community, and the type of people are released on that are not a risk people, I think it works very well, and I would like to see them look at stuff like that, absolutely.
Ratliff: We don’t have that here. Those are usually dealt with through probation or the district attorney’s office. We are always looking for ways to cut back on our jail population, but you also have to look at it — you have to have people to monitor those also. So, that’s going to be additional personnel you’re going to have to hire in the county to monitor them. So, we certainly don’t have the people or the space to do that. We’d have to have a lot more people to monitor each one of these people that gets that. And so, I think it’s a pretty big cost to the county, and it’s something that we don’t do here at the sheriff’s office. We’d certainly be open to it if we got the funds to do it and got the people to do it.
SMLN: On April 7, 2009, Sheriff Ratliff gave the commissioners court a report detailing problems with the county jail, and he asked the court to “step forward” and fund repairs. The court had not funded repairs by April 23, 2009, when the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspected the jail at Ratliff’s request. The jail failed that inspection and the next inspection in September 2009. Two months after the second failed inspection, TCJS ordered the jail’s kitchen closed. The county used legal avenues to stall the kitchen closure until February, when the county rented a mobile kitchen unit for $11,200 a month while it fixed the kitchen, roof, and other problems. In June, TCJS found the jail to be back in compliance with state standards, and the agency gave the jail another passing grade after an inspection conducted last month. The commissioners court spent about $1,236,960 in jail repairs between October 2009 and August 2010, authorized another $2 million in repairs in August, and is considering spending another $23.7 million in jail improvements. Some commissioners court members expressed the view that the state exaggerated some of the jail’s problems, and they said Sheriff Ratliff should have waited for them to conduct needed repairs rather than invite a TCJS inspection. Ratliff said he is responsible for the welfare of staff and inmates at the jail, and representatives of the firm overseeing jail repairs said that by putting off the latest round of repairs, the county had to pay more for them. To Ratliff: Do you stand by your decision to invite the April 2009 TCJS inspection, and if so, why? For Cutler: Would you have invited the TCJS inspection in April 2009?
Ratliff: First of all, the jail obviously is back into compliance now. We’ve passed two inspections this year alone. The jail staff’s opinion — and it’s mine also — is that had we not stepped up and asked that, get something done with the jail, then at our next inspection, we were fixing to get, we were fixing to get chastised severely for not having done the work that should have already been done on the jail. And that, essentially, what I was trying to do was just get the court to do the work and get it done — which they’ve done. We’re going back, you’re going back in time now on something — the way I like to look at things is, we saw a problem and we fixed it, we move on, and then I forget about it. You bring up the fact of what happened in the past — the whole point was, we had to fix the jail, we had to fix it. And the longer you put it off, it’s going to cost you more. And not only just a cost factor, but I’m responsible for this jail. And when I came here, these issues were already in place. These issues that I presented to the court were things that didn’t happen since I got here, they happened long before I got here. And so I’m responsible for it and I’m going to step up to the plate and fix it and take care of my responsibility. And I’m not going to just sit back and wait for the jail commission to come in here as I was told was going to happen — that they were fixing to shut us down or certainly take us out of compliance if we didn’t do certain things and they didn’t get done. And so I was trying to insure that they do. The thing is, if I have to put my name as being the one responsible for it — when you are held responsible for that, it’s a — one of those situations where I’m responsible, so first thing I want to do is find out what’s wrong with it. So, I had the jail people tell me, everybody that’s worked in the jail — some of them worked in this jail since it was built — said (they said), “These are the issues of the jail. This has to be fixed, these are the things going on.” And so, one way for me to know exactly what needs to be done is to call in the professionals. That’s what they do for a living. They’re responsible for checking every jail in the state of Texas to make sure they’re in compliance. So, it’s kind of like buying a house or a business. If you buy a house or a business, are you just going to not look at it, don’t know anything about it, just buy it to move your family into? Or are you going to inspect it yourself? And are you going to hire somebody to come in and look at it and see what’s wrong with it before you buy it? So, it’s kind of the same thing. That’s the way I look at it. I think it’s a responsible thing to do, is to bring somebody in that’s a professional and say “These are the things that need to be fixed and should have already been fixed long before Tommy Ratliff ever got here.” And so, I’m really glad that I did that, because what it did was, it caused everybody to step up and got it fixed. And they did — the commissioners court’s done a great job, they stepped up to the plate, gave a monetary amount, we’ve put a lot into the jail, and quite frankly, from my opinion, it should have been done a long time ago. But it’s back into compliance and everything’s going great here at the jail, everything’s being run really smooth. Of course, we’re still having to work on it, those things never change. We’re just back into compliance now. When you have to pass 600 or 700 different things that the jail commission looks at with a jail that’s had as many issues as this one’s had, and still has, says a lot about the people that work here. And so, yeah, I certainly would do that again because if I’m responsible, then I’m going to step up to the plate and take care of my responsibilities.
Cutler: If you’re going to have an inspection, you should be ready for an inspection. But if you’re responsible for the upkeep of the jail, you work with the commissioners court to keep it upkeep. My whole deal on this jail is, preventive maintenance should be done on this jail at all times. That’s the home of 362 inmates when it’s maxed out. At all times, you should keep your jail ready for an inspection. If you see problems starting to develop in your jail, you need to address those problems. If you saw a roof that was starting to leak, you need to address that, that needs to be brought to the attention immediately so it can be addressed. If you saw mold or mildew starting to form in your (jail) kitchen, you don’t wait until it takes over the entire kitchen to address it when you start to see that. That’s my deal is, preventive maintenance should be done at the jail at all times. That jail operates 24/7, 365 days a year, and you got to stay on top of it and do maintenance at all times. So if the Jail Standards (TCJS) comes out and does a spot inspection, you should be ready for it. There may be issues that they point out to you that you may have to address, but you should be prepared at any point in time that they walk through the door to do an inspection.
SMLN: Does the sheriff have a role to play in encouraging some local governments with no police forces to provide public safety/law enforcement services, and if so, what is that role?
Cutler: I don’t necessarily say it’s a role of the sheriff. It’s a role of the sheriff to provide law enforcement services throughout the county. But if you’ve got [inaudible] municipalities like San Marcos PD (Police Department) or Kyle providing law enforcement services, even though it’s within the jurisdiction of the sheriff, you’re going to defer to that law enforcement agency to provide the citizens with that service. But I don’t know that it’s an obligation. Yeah, it’s an obligation to everyone in the county and you would defer — but to tell another city or municipality such as Dripping Springs or Wimberley they need to provide law enforcement services, that would be something you’d have to work together with the leaders of that community to discuss that. But the sheriff is responsible to provide law enforcement services throughout the county to all the citizens and/or visitors.
Ratliff: That’s their decision, they’re the ones that have to make those decisions. We’re covering the county now with our officers in, like, Wimberley and Dripping Springs and Buda, and these cities, and any area, has to make that decision on their own. That’s nothing that I’m going to go one way or another. If they don’t want it and they want to continue to have us, we’ll be there for them. If they want to do their own, then that’s their call and they’ll make those decisions.
SMLN: According to the MGT study, many jurisdictions in the United States use citations or notices to appear as a method to prevent offenders arrested for minor offenses from being booked and incarcerated in jail. Texas law enforcement officers have the ability to issue citations to offenders accused of committing Class C misdemeanors. As of September 2007, in Texas law enforcement officers may release offenders of certain citation-eligible Class A and Class B misdemeanors to appear at a later date before a judge. According to the MGT Study, while there is support for the “release to appear” program from the law enforcement community and the District Attorney’s Office in Hays County, the use of citations instead of incarceration is still not being used as widely as it could be. The study concludes that given the number of offenders who are booked into the jail for citable offenses, the program is one that could be expanded. Should sheriff’s deputies use cite and release, should the sheriff’s office have a cite and release policy, and if elected, to what extent would you encourage officers to use cite and release?
Ratliff: We do that now. We already do that. We do a cite and release program here in Hays County at the sheriff’s office. And we’re obviously conscious of that, and our guys do that. One of the things is, we don’t have any control over other agencies, what they do. We can suggest it or ask them to do that, but we don’t have any say over that. So, I can’t really say what the policy is of San Marcos or Texas State or Kyle or what even Buda’s is going to be, or what the constables’ are, or any arresting entity in the county. I can only speak for us, for Hays County Sheriff’s Office. And we do it and have done it for a long time, we’ve been involved in that program for a while and we’ll continue that.
Cutler: Yes, I do believe in cite and release. It’s a good program, it is used in a lot of places. But you do not want to take away the discretion of the officer who’s making that arrest. I would not want to take discretion away from him because I’m not there with him when he makes the arrest. For example, you would have to take a lot of things into account, when I’m talking about officer discretion. If this person has committed a Class C offense and he’s a repeat offender in this area, I would think — you’ve got to take a lot of things into consideration on a cite and release deal. But I do think it would — I do think it works, but I wouldn’t want to take discretion away from the officers who are dealing with it every day. If you’ve got extenuating circumstances where the man would have to be taken in, for example, if he’s gone out and committed a Class C, and you know he’s had a lengthy criminal history, or maybe you know the individual’s been in and out of the penitentiary — all of this needs to be taken into consideration when this individual commits this particular offense. And also, the type of offense he’s committing out there, you’ve got to take that into consideration. But yes, I think a cite and release program does work very well.
SMLN: The commissioners court has initiated a process to begin implementing at least some of the MGT Study’s recommendations. What should the sheriff’s role be in that process?
Cutler: I know one of the recommendations was a pretrial services program. I strongly support a pretrial services program and I think that the sheriff department’s role in that should be working closely — if it’s under the adult probation (department), if that’s where it’s put under if it is approved and put into place — then the sheriff’s department needs to definitely work with them to get these inmates through the pretrial services program where they’re [inaudible] place for them to interview, for the bond people to interview them, and I think that [inaudible] work closely with this program. Now, I’m not sure what other programs you’re talking about putting into place, but I know one of them was pretrial services, and I would like to see it. But you need to work closely with them to get these moved through because there’s certain inmates that can definitely be released on bond, they’re not violent offenders that get picked up for certain offenses, and you can move them through pretrial services program, you can get them through the system quicker and they’ll have to answer in court to their offenses.
Ratliff: We work with the — what’s interesting is, we work with the courts every day. We’re in constant contact with the county courts and the district courts and the judges and the whole system, in trying to work ways to ease our jail population. Everybody’s trying to get something done with it. Our county’s growing. So we’re always going to have this jail population, and it’s increasing. We’re one of the fastest-growing counties in Texas and one of the fastest-growing in the nation. So you’re going to have a lot more people move it, when you do, you’re going to have more crime. So that’s going to continue. Those issues are going to continue until we get something done about it in the county. So, we’re going to have to just deal with it in whatever fashion we feel like’s the best way to do it. The biggest percentage of the (MGT Study’s) recommendations don’t have anything to do with the sheriff’s office, they have to do with the jail — I’m sorry, with the district courts and county courts and district attorney’s office. We’re here, we’re willing to help and do whatever we can because we want to ease our (jail) population also. We don’t want to keep people here if we can get them out.
SMLN: What means can the sheriff or the commissioners court use to keep officer morale high?
Ratliff: Well, the (commissioner) court (members) are the ones that make all the decisions on any raises, and there’s collective bargaining going on now with the officers. So, I’m pretty much out of that. That’s all the money that’s, any raises that are given to the officers in the county is all done through collective bargaining now, so I really don’t have a role in that. That’s up to them, and I’m pretty much out of that. The only thing that morale is — you want to make sure that you have good equipment for them, which we do. Thanks to the commissioners court and the judge, we’ve gotten good equipment and good, modern equipment. You want to make sure they have good, modern equipment, and a good working environment, and they’re compensated for it. So, compensation is an issue. And that’s dealt with by someone other than me, so there’s really nothing I can do about that.
Cutler: Well, you’ve got to look out for your officers. There’s several things. If an officer goes out and he is just — takes, (goes) from call to call to call, that could be a morale issue, because there’s not enough manpower out there. If you keep good manpower on the street to help respond, to help back each other up. You’ve got to take care of your officers. There’s ways to take care of them, I’m sure — salaries, benefits, that’s definitely something that officers look at from a morale — because you’ve got an investment when you’ve got an officer that’s been there — let’s say a two- or three-year officer, you’ve spent time training him and then you lose your best because maybe another agency up the road, down the road somewhere, is offering more to the officer to be doing the same thing he’s doing in Hays County. You’ve lost your investment, you’ve got to start over. Officers also want training to better do their jobs. So, you want to be sure that they’re getting the good training, good-quality training, because things change every day in law enforcement. The laws change. The legislature meets every two years. Laws change, so you want to emphasize the importance of training for officers. And their day-to-day needs, equipment needs. As we advance every day, there’s new equipment, modern equipment. Years ago, there were not computers in cars, now there are computers in cars — so you got to stay up-to-date on that. All of that combined, and just show good leadership. The officers want to be treated fair. If an officer is disciplined, he wants a fair shake of why he was disciplined. For example, if there is an allegation of misconduct, he needs to go through a fair — an officer should have rights and fair due process. He’s entitled to due process, he needs to have that, he’s entitled to that. He needs to have a fair promotional process. If he chooses to go the supervisory route, then it needs to be a process in place where they’re all equal and they can go through a testing and promotional process that every one of them can get involved in equally. So that’s what they look for. You can’t just go in and not let these officers have a fair shake of everything there. They want to be treated fair.
SMLN: According to the MGT study, Hays County has the lowest violent crime rate and the lowest property crime rate of the peer counties of Comal County, Ellis County, Guadalupe County, and Johnson County. According to the study, Hays County is above the 2007 average peer county population of 123,031 residents, has the fastest growing population, the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line, and the lowest median age of the peer counties. If all this is true, is it useful to you in your work, and if so, how does it inform your decision making?
Cutler: If that’s all accurate, then it is useful. And you’re still going to have to continue to provide the law enforcement service to keep it down. You cannot let up. You’re going to have to continue to excel, continue to keep your officers trained, and to work more with your community. I think the more you work with the community, keeping them educated in different programs — crime prevention is real important to keep the people informed throughout the county. You’ve got citizens’ academies, senior citizens’ academies, to keep them informed of what officers are doing. The more you involve your community, the more likely you’re going to keep those numbers down. The more they know what you’re doing, you’re going to keep it down, which is what you want to do.
Ratliff: I can tell you this, that if I went out here and told my criminal investigation people and all my people that are working the crimes in this county, my deputies, that very thing that you just said, that I don’t believe there’s a one of them that would agree with you. We have a lot of crime in the county. We have lots of things that we’re concerned about in the county. And we’re having a lot of issues with getting things reported correctly, and we’re in the midst of working with DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) closely, and they’re sending people up here to try to make sure that our crime statistics that is being reported, is being reported correctly. We feel like that’s low compared to what really is going on. We are having to deal with our system, and hopefully when we get this corrected, we feel like it will be a little bit more accurate. Because we are having lots of things in this county that we’re dealing with. Our people are inundated with work right now, our criminal investigation people are inundated, our calls have increased through our communications, and so I believe that there’s some of that information — at nobody’s fault, that’s because of our crime reporting — hasn’t been handled like it should have been handled. And what I mean by that, the computer system that we work on — we work on Odyssey and we’re having a lot of issues with Odyssey. What we’re being told is, we’re entering stuff correctly here, but for some reason it’s not coming out on the other end like it should. And so we’ve been working with Department of Public Safety, their Crime Reporting Division, for a while now, in trying to correct this problem. So as far as crime, as the sheriff, I hope that the crime is down. Because if crime is down, that’s always a good thing. But we’re staying awfully busy, and there are a lot of things going on in the county that lead us to believe that — I think that’s kind of deceiving to tell people that we have a real low crime rate in this county when we don’t see that. But as far as using the information, we’re always looking at the information and statistics and trying to see what we can do to do better to improve the law enforcement in this county. And that’s what we try to do every day.
SMLN: What does your experience and education tell you about the public safety needs of Hays County? What public safety issues in the county need the most attention in your view?
Ratliff: We always have public safety issues in the county. Obviously, there’s going to be the jail issue. We’re going to have to deal with that. Obviously, the commissioners court is going to be the ones having to make those decisions, and not particularly me. That is a public safety issue because it’s so old and we’re having to spend so much money housing outside prisoners at cost to the county. We just have to continue on the road that we are, and that’s to protect the citizens of the county, and public safety issues are just keeping the deputies on the street, having our response times cut down — getting to calls quicker. And so, as far as public safety issues, we look at it as one call to the next. Whatever comes up we need to respond to. And the jail issues are some things that we’re concerned with. We just want to make sure that we keep the proper amount of deputies on the street. Our ratio is not good in Hays County, I can tell you that. A good ratio is about two officers for every 1,000 people, and right now we have about 0.7 (officers per 1,000 people). So that’s an issue that’s going to have to be addressed at some point. But we always want more people. The more people you have, the better and quicker your response times are. So that’s an issue that I’d like to see, of course, and the jail issue. That actually is a safety issue. When you have a jail that’s this old, and we’re having this many issues with it, then we’re going to have to deal with it. Commissioners court’s really going to have to deal with it, not me. But we’re willing to work with them and do whatever we can to escalate that a little bit, make that a little bit faster.
Cutler: The public safety issues all, in my opinion, are based around growth right now because growth brings a lot of things to the county. Of course, we all know that Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state and in the country. And with the growth, you’ve got issues anywhere from increased calls for service from the public, whether it’s emergency needs or criminal offenses that they’re reporting, to disturbances — you’ve got traffic issues, traffic-related issues that growth brings. Growth can bring an increase in alcohol issues throughout the county because of more people — the college is now to 32,000 people. So, you have to look at the big picture with all of that, the impact that growth brings to your county when you get this volume of people coming in.
SMLN: As the county becomes more urbanized and more densely-populated, how does that change the role of the sheriff’s office, if at all?
Cutler: Not to be repetitive here, but that’s going to be a big impact. You’re going to have to work with your commissioners court. You’re going to have to get more officers in critical areas, like on patrol. And once they’re on patrol, it can also impact your investigative unit, because follow-up investigations are required. As the county grows, the police departments are going to grow within the jurisdictions of Hays County — San Marcos, Kyle, Buda. That will impact the jail issues. There won’t be an impact as far as calls for service, because they (city’s) will be having their own (police forces), but that will impact when arrests are made, it will impact the jail populace, which is at the maximum right now, and that will impact the entire criminal justice system in Hays County back to the — the arrest is made, it has to be disposed in court somehow, and it will impact the entire criminal justice system. I think that’s the way it’s going to change it. It’s going to stretch the resources. Under our current economic times, as tough as they are right now, it’s going to stretch our resources because of the increase in calls for service.
Ratliff: Well, Hays County, it’s a very big county. And when you get out there and you drive the county and you look at the county, you realize we’re really a long ways from that. We have a lot of people moving into the county, but we have such a big area of the county that — there’s still a whole of area in the county that’s not populated. The issues really right now in the next four to 10 years are going to be a lot of the same they are, we just have to continue our close working relationship with the other counties — I’m sorry, with the other law enforcement entities in the county, work closely as we always have with San Marcos, with Kyle. And Buda’s (new police force is) going to be kicking on line here pretty soon, so we’ll be working with them. Texas State University Police, we work with them. The chiefs and I get together every one to two months and talk about issues in the county. As long as we keep up a good working relationship in the county, we don’t see it anytime in the next 10 years, changing enough to where we’re going to start losing area. Because Buda is on line — they’re going to be on line, but we’re going to probably be the ones who are going to be backing them up and going there if they’re not available to get there. So really we’re still going to be — I’m sure they (Budites) are going to be calling for our assistance pretty regularly. Because until they get enough people to cover their area like they probably need, then they’re probably going to be leaning on us for that. So, we’re still going to have to respond to that. And we respond whenever San Marcos needs us, we go there. If Kyle calls us, we go. We don’t see a diminishing role of deputies in the county, because we have — a lot of people are moving in the county as we all know, and the more people you have moving out into the county in new subdivisions that are being built, then you’re going to need more deputies, because those (new subdivisions) are not in incorporated cities. We don’t see the role changing. We see actually our role as expanding.
SMLN: The commissioners court is contemplating spending $23,750,000 to increase the capacity of the jail to accommodate 96 more inmates and allow for a future expansion to 700 total prisoner beds. Do you support this action?
Cutler: Yes, I do support it. Because as a part of the MGT study I agree with — as far as the (part of the) study I have a concern with, I have a concern with, they’re reporting that they feel like the (jail) population will not increase substantially. I think that as the county grows, there is the possibility of that (county jail population increase) happening, and we’ve got to be ready for that. We’ve got to have jail capacity because we’re spending money to house prisoners in another county. We’re spending tax dollars for that. And if the county increases as projected, I think that the inmate population could go up. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the county continues to be safe and that it’s not an issue. But I feel like the population could go up, and we need the bed space if it does. Since we’re maxed out now and our population is steadily climbing, I think there’s certain people that will have to be locked up, and we need the space without shipping them to another county. So, I’m glad to see they’re going to build that, and I think we very much need that.
SMLN: The commissioners court is contemplating spending $7.4 million for an expansion of the public safety building adjacent to the jail. Do you support this action?
Cutler: Yes, there is going to be a need for expansion because as the county grows, the department’s going to grow. And you’ve got to start preparing for that also. Each year, whenever you go through the budget process, if there is an increase, which I’m sure there is from year to year. As the calls for service and everything increases, there will be an increase in personnel or staffing at the sheriff’s department, you’re going to have to have a place for them. As the county grows, the sheriff’s department’s going to grow, that’s just the way it’s going to be, to provide law enforcement services to the citizens of the county. So yes, if there’s space — I’m basing this on, I do not know, being a challenger in this race, I do not know how crowded they are right now. If it’s extremely crowded right now, then, absolutely, there’s going to be something needed. Because a fine example is, they’re building another criminal justice center, you’re aware of that. They’ve outgrown where they are now and they’re building another criminal justice center to try to put more county offices all together. So, yes, I would say adding on would be a good thing. If they’re going to renovate out there and add onto the jail 96 beds, it would be a time to look at all this at one time.
Ratliff: Yeah, absolutely. What’s happened is, we have the same size complex here that they had in 1994, yet we’ve expanded and grown in size, and we’re using closet space for offices, and we don’t have the storage — it’s just, it’s gone past where it needs to be. We need more space, and so we’re asking them to look at trying to do something for us, and communications, that’s grown. We recently hired 10 new communication operators to help, that are always working either fire or EMS all the time. So, we’re running out of space. We just don’t have the room for any more expansion over there unless you build onto it, we just don’t have any place to put anybody. We’ve used every nook and cranny we can find to use, but we just need more space.
SMLN: How would you balance the needs of various parts of the county to insure adequate and equitable officer coverage throughout the county?
Ratliff: I think I pretty much answered that earlier — what we do is we take what the commissioners court let us have — and we’re real happy with what they’ve given us, so we’re going to do the best job that we can with the personnel we have. Depending on the calls that come through, and when and how many (officers) we have, (these affect) how it long it takes us to get to a call. And so yeah, when you’re at 0.7 officers per 1,000 population and a good norm for us is — and all over the country — is around two, to maybe even a tad bit more than two per thousand population, we’re really doing well, considering we’re well behind in the number of officers that we really need in the county. So, I’m real happy with the work that our deputies are doing and our response time, considering we’re way back. Now, if we doubled what we have, it’d even be better, and it’s better for the people.
Cutler: You’re going to have a shift that’s going to cover certain areas of the county, and I think you’ll see, you’re going to have to put a balance — I think now it’s worked on each side of the county — it’s called east and west side. And you’d have to keep close to the same amount of patrolmen in the same areas. But now, if you’ve got a heavier-populated area, you’d need to look at an analysis of your crime in certain areas to see if there’s an area of increased crime. When you’ve got a low-crime area, yes, you need coverage there. The citizens are entitled to coverage, they’re entitled to see a patrolman go through their neighborhood. But in another area, if you’ve got an analyst or someone that can analyze that crime is heavier in one area, then yes, you may have to address that to bring it under control. It depends upon the make-up of the county. But, yes, citizens are entitled to see officers, they’re entitled to have them in their neighborhoods driving through their communities, and you want to be balanced. Like I said, you could use an analyst to look at a breakdown of crime, and reported crime, and types of crime throughout the county. Then you would have to take that into consideration on how you might address that once you analyze the information you received, if you wanted to have to beef-up in a certain area because of higher-reported crime there.
SMLN: What can the sheriff do to insure the commissioners court is in tune with the public safety needs of the county?
Cutler: You need to work closely with your court. Each commissioner’s got a precinct he’s responsible for. You need to work closely with your commissioners court and all your department heads. If you work closely with your court, then a commissioner would know what’s going on in his county. And especially during the budget process, you’ll be collecting statistics and things like that, and if the commissioner so desires, you should be able to provide him with what’s going on in the county in general, not necessarily his precinct — but the county in general and the law enforcement needs. You have to work closely with them (commissioners), and provide them your information, and keep them updated just like you would do citizens. But you would work closely with the commissioners court, especially during the budget process, with statistics to show the increases in areas and decreases, if there’s decreases.
Ratliff: Do what I’m doing now. I send them emails periodically letting them know. When we were doing all the work on the jail, every week or two I’d send them an email saying, “Hey, this is what’s going on with the jail, this is what we’re doing, this is what we’ve accomplished.” I don’t talk to them on an everyday basis about what goes on at the sheriff’s office, because that’s my responsibility. But if I feel like they need to know something, that’s why I email or call them and let them know. But we try to keep them up to date on things that we feel they need to know about, to have good communication between the two, which we have.
SMLN: When the sheriff’s office needs more resources, how do you go about convincing the commissioners court to fund those resources?
Ratliff: I just talk to them (commissioners). I talk to them, I have individuals that work for me go talk to them, will meet with them if there are issues that come up where we’re going to request something, or we need something. We just finished the budget. In the last six or seven months, we’ve been working on the budget, so we always let them know. Not only do we ask for something, we told them why we needed it. So, that was always written into our budget. We say, “We need this and we need it because of this.” And then at some point we say, “We need this, this is why, and this is going to happen if we don’t get it.” So, we’re always sending them emails or sending them information about why we need stuff. We don’t pull things out of the air. We look at trying to be real efficient here. One thing I’m real happy about is, during my first year as the sheriff, we returned money to the county out of our budget. My first year, we returned just under $300,000 back to the county that we didn’t spend. So, we’re trying to save the taxpayers money. But if we find out things that we need, we approach them and ask them. We’re going to probably return money again this year out of this past year’s budget for 2010. And so we try to, we try to be very efficient with the county’s, with the taxpayers’ money. But if we need something, we just go talk to them and ask them, and try to tell them why we need it, and give them all the information they can so they can make a good decision.
Cutler: We’re in a high-tech era now. You should have data showing (the commissioners court) the increase and the need for more officers because of the calls for service. You’re going to have to justify what you need to them (commissioners). You can’t just walk in and say, “I need this,” without justification. You should have justification at all times on what your needs are, and prove to the commissioners court why you need this particular equipment and/or personnel. And if you keep good stats and tabs on everything, you should be able to have the justification and the backing to back up your request to the commissioners court. And I don’t blame them for wanting to see things like that before they grant money, taxpayers’ money, to buy things. You need to have good justifications and statistics to back up what you’re asking for.
SMLN: What will you do to insure adequate coordination between the sheriff’s office and other public safety agencies in the county?
Cutler: I would work closely with all of these agencies. You’ve got to work closely. Criminals don’t necessarily have boundaries. So, you need to know what’s going on in each community. The officers are going to communicate. Officers on the street are going to communicate with officers in other cities, but you need to have — I know there’s task force, and they can collect information. But it’d be nice to have a — I know at times they’ve talked about having meetings to share information. Of course, nowadays, we have high-tech equipment so we can share information. We need to be sure to share the information with all other parts of the county and other municipalities and leaders. You’ve got to work together and stick together in battling crime. So, I would work closely with all of the agencies — and even your surrounding counties. You need to work closely with all your law enforcement agencies throughout the Central Texas area, especially within your county.
Ratliff: Same thing we’re doing now: good communication, meetings. My criminal investigative division, every one to two months, puts on a meeting in all of Central Texas, and we bring everybody in from criminal investigative (divisions) from all over Central Texas to talk about crime that’s going on in the county. We initiated this program. We’re really happy with it. It brings — lets everybody know what’s going on in their respective areas, what we can do to help each other, good communication. It’s the same thing we have right now. We have great communication and a great working relationship with all the entities in Hays County. We’re real proud of that. It does nothing but make law enforcement better and more efficient.Email | Print