Houston Police Chief Jim McNiell

While responding to a report of a fight at a Broadway Street residence last week, Houston police made a significant drug bust.

Chief Jim McNiell said an officer went to the location at about 3 p.m. Jan. 22 and found that the fisticuffs between two men had subsided. But upon entering the home, the officer observed numerous drug-related items in plain sight.

McNiell said one man was inside sitting on a couch and exhibited signs of minor injury, likely from the scuffle.

“In plain view of the officer were all sorts of narcotic drugs, that were apparently prescription drugs not in their original containers,” McNiell said. “There was also marijuana and paraphernalia, and the subject was arrested at that time.”

The officer called for assistance, and McNiell and another officer responded, along with the department’s drug dog, Rooke.

“We brought him to support our find,” McNiell said. “He was indicating everywhere we had found things.”

Among the items seized as evidence were portable weighing scales.

“I think a lot of what was there was for personal use,” McNiell said. “We’re not sure if he was involved in selling pot, but the scales give you the impression that that could have been going on.”

Arrested at the scene and taken to jail was a 39-year-old man, McNiell said. A probable cause state was sent to Texas County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Anderson seeking multiple charges against him related to possession of drugs and paraphernalia.

Later the same night, Rooke went to work again.

McNiell said a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper made a traffic stop on U.S. 63 and requested assistance from the HPD K-9 unit. Rooke and his handler, officer Brad Evans, responded to the scene.

The dog conducted a search of the vehicle and indicated on the driver’s side where the trooper had already found marijuana.

“Rooke supported the trooper and his traffic stop,” McNiell said.

HPD fleet expanded

Since McNiell took the HPD’s lead position in Sept. 2010, one of his goals has been to see to it that each officer had his own patrol car. With the addition of a 2008 Ford Explorer, formerly utilized by City Administrator Larry Sutton, that goal has been realized.

“My goal has always been to improve the department in any way,” McNiell said. “Now we’ll have six officers and six vehicles.”

When McNiell came to the HPD after retiring from a 33-year career with the patrol, the department had four vehicles in its fleet. The four-wheel-drive Explorer will be assigned to McNiell, but will be available to other officers during periods of inclement weather. The new addition joins a 4X4 Jeep used regularly by Sgt. Tim Ceplina.

“Now we’ll have two four-wheel-drive vehicles,” McNiell said. “That will certainly help at times in maneuvering on some of the steeper grades in town when roads are slick, like on Oak Hill Drive. And we won’t have to double-shift the Jeep so much.”

Each officer will take his vehicle home when off duty.

“They’ll be there for visibility in the neighborhood,” McNiell said, “but if we have something go down in the community and we need an off-duty officer to respond, they’ll be able to do so from their residence and not have to drive to the police station and then drive out to where they’re needed. In an emergency situation or crisis, that’s time lost that could be crucial.

“I appreciate the city administrator understanding what my thoughts were, and I think it make us more service-oriented for the citizens of this community.”

McNiell said a $10,000 grant has recently been secured from the state Department of Public Safety for adding video camera systems to three of the department’s vehicles within the next few weeks – the K-9 unit car, Cpl. David Kidwell’s car and one other vehicle. The city will match 10-percent of the grant funds.

“Cameras tell the story,” McNiell said. “This will be good for handling civil and criminal cases. We can record accident scenes, crime scenes, traffic stops and so many other things. It also offers officer protection, because if an officer is attacked in any way, we’ll have it on video.

“It’s a smart thing to do.”

Officers in the camera cars will be outfitted with microphones, so incidents and situations will be documented with audio as well as video. McNiell said grant funding has been an integral part of the HPD’s recent growth and improvement.

“Over time, grants have helped us obtain better bullet-proof vests, radar systems and even durable portable computers that the officers now have in their cars,” he said. “Small departments like ours have to deal with budgets just like everybody else. We’ve been able to keep our priorities set and work toward them, and we’ve been very successful in finding and securing funding through grants.

“Any time you can have 90 percent of the funding covered for something that improves our department, that’s money that we want.”

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