The reason: the county is growing, and with that comes crime.
In 2012, the number of crimes reported to deputies that would require additional investigation was 844. In 2013, that number climbed to 969. This year, the number is projected to reach 1,200, according to information recently to commissioners during their budget hearing.
The number of emergency calls in 2012 was 11,495, while this year, that number is projected to reach 14,800.
It is this increase in crime, and no increase in staff for the past several years, that prompted law enforcement to plead with commissioners for help.
Part of that is the addition of two more deputies, a sergeant, a dispatcher and an investigator.
Lt. Ronnie Jones, with the sheriff’s office, said, “Calls and everything are increasing. The Eagle Ford—this is the downside of it.”
This meeting last week is just one of many meetings with law enforcement and the other departments within the county that commissioners will have before they adopt their budget for next year.
County Judge David Silva said, “I know the needs. I see the needs.”
He added that he understands that officers are underpaid compared to neighboring counties.
According to information provided, deputies in Bee County are paid less than those in San Patricio, Live Oak and Karnes counties.
“It is hard to be around counties that are paying much more because they can afford it,” Silva said.
“We will do what we can. We will do what we can afford.”
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt said, “With everything I am seeing and hearing in the county, they are shorthanded.”
Lt. John Davis, also with the sheriff’s office, reminded that the state average number of officers per 1,000 residents is about 2.4.
Taking into account the growth of the county recently, Bee would need to increase the number of officers to 48—just over three times what they have now.
“That is 60 percent of the state average,” Davis said. “That Eagle Ford Shale has been a positive economic boost to our community; however, there are negatives associated with it which have caused growing pains.”
Those growing pains are coming not only on the highways where more wrecks are occurring but also in homes and businesses where people are becoming victims of drug-related crimes.
“We also have had a large increase, unfortunately, in methamphetamine use which trickles down to you, you and you,” Davis said, looking at each of the county leaders. “The oil field lower class laborers that are not your DOT type workers that have to take drug screening, such as your pipeliners, brought this methamphetamine in.
“The oil fielders can walk away, but the methamphetamine is here. It is established.”
Tied with drug use is theft.
“If it is not tied down, they are going to steal it,” Davis said. “If it is tied down, they are going to cut it with a torch and steal it.”
Davis said that with the personnel they have now, not all of the crimes can be investigated properly.
“As it stands right now, we cannot investigate every crime as well as it should be,” he said.
“We are doing the best we can.
“We don’t cry. We just put our heads down and go.”
Of course, with an increase in personnel comes the increase in equipping them. Jones was asking that along with the traditional gear deputies carry, that tasers be added to the list.
Davis said, “The studies have shown it reduces offender injuries as well as officer injuries. Your worker compensation claims go down. Your hospital bills for offenders go down.”
Just how these devices can help is no better illustrated than the events that occurred just a few weeks back.
“Recently, we had a kid with a gun,” Davis said. “I was there moments after it happened.
“Sgt. Kevin Behr came very close to having to shoot that kid.
“He was wanting us to shoot.”
Fortunately, a highway patrol officer was there—equipped with a taser.
“Things are getting wilder out there,” Davis said.
Jones said this isn’t an isolated incident.
“Within the last two months I have personally been involved in three separate incidents,” Jones said. “Fortunately, there was a police officer standing behind me.”
Those officers had tasers.
“The suspect did not get as (badly) injured as he would have,” Jones said.
Whether the county budget will support the law enforcement request is not known yet.
That will not come until later this year as the budget is cut and tweaked to fit the expected revenue.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at editor@mySouTex.com.