Picture of Texas County Justice Center photo
Credit: FILE PHOTO

Personnel with the Texas County Sheriff’s Department were busy again in 2021, as crime in general stayed at about the same level as in 2020.

Deputies handled 9,427 calls for service last year and generated 1,037 written reports, both totals slightly down from the previous year’s 9,972 and 1,105.

“I always find it interesting when we run these totals at the end of the year,” said Texas County Sheriff Scott Lindsey. “Once in a while you see a dramatic increase or decrease in something, but it’s pretty consistent on a lot of things.”

Lindsey began serving as sheriff in November 2018 and is in the middle of his first full term. He will be up for re-election in 2024.

Lindsey said last year’s overall totals contain a few categories that show interesting and unfortunate increases.

•Domestic violence.

TCSD deputies responded to 239 calls in this category in 2021, up from 226 in 2020 and 213 in 2019.

“It’s going up every year,” Lindsey said. “That’s a disturbing trend. As law enforcement officers, our goal is to intervene there and try to stop that circle of domestic violence.”

Lindsey sees one positive aspect to the steady increase.

“That means it’s being reported,” he said. “Years ago, it was often considered more of a private matter that families handled themselves. But we’ve always encouraged people to report what’s going on, so maybe that’s a silver lining.

“I’d love it if we didn’t have a domestic violence problem, but at least we’re receiving reports where we can intervene.”

•Mental health.

Deputies were dispatched 94 times for calls in this category in 2021, up from 73 in 2020 and 57 in 2019.

“Just like domestic violence, there has been a drastic increase in the three-year pattern,” Lindsey said. “I think the reasoning is similar; we have more resources to offer people now – we’ve had several officers trained in crisis intervention in the past year and we have a local crisis intervention team. So I think people are realizing they can call and there are referrals that can be made and ways they can be helped.”

Sex offenses.

The TCSD tended to 24 calls in this category last year, up from 17 in 2020 and 12 in 2019.

Lindsey said the vast majority of this form of crime involves an adult perpetrating an offense on a juvenile.

“I feel like all the agencies in Texas County do a good job of investigating these types of crimes,” he said. “I think we’re on top of that, and we definitely take it seriously.”

•Motorist assist.

Deputies were involved in these responses 79 times in 2021, compared to 55 last year and just 5 in 2019.

Lindsey said the increase could be due in part to dwindling numbers in law enforcement agency staffing.

Texas County Sheriff’s Department deputies sit in the officers’ work area inside the Justice Center in Houston. From left, Sgt. Kenny Reynolds, deputy Brandon Barnes, deputy Jeremy Wink and Sgt. Graham Applegate. The drinks and snacks on the table were donated by citizens for the recent Law Enforcement Appreciation Day sponsored by the Houston Lions Club.

“Every law enforcement agency is stretched thin,” he said. “That goes for Missouri and all over the United States. The highway patrol has declining personnel, so this could be because there are less troopers on the road.

“We also encourage officers to be more proactive than in the past, so it could be indicative of that as well.”

•Murder.

Deputies didn’t investigate a murder last year, as the only one to occur in Texas County took place inside Houston city limits.

“Texas County typically averages one or two a year,” Lindsey said, “so I guess we were within that range with the one in town. But we didn’t have to work one ourselves out in the county.

“I just know that won’t hold up over a period of time.”

CRIME AND DRUGS GO HAND-IN-HAND

Lindsey said nearly all of the property crime in Texas County (like stealing and burglary) is related to illegal drug addiction. 

“People are stealing property and selling it to have money to buy drugs or trading the stolen property for illegal drugs,” Lindsey said. “Drug addiction is not a regional or even state problem, it’s nationwide. Approximately 90% of the domestic violence calls are also related to drug or alcohol use. So the combined substance abuse is a huge issue in our call volume and crime rates.” 

Unlike during the clandestine “meth lab” days, most drugs (like methamphetamine, opiates and fentanyl) are not produced domestically, but are now brought here from foreign countries. Lindsey said there’s no simple answer to solve the national problem.

“It’s frustrating to see the amount of drugs that flow into our region from other areas,” he said, “and it starts at the United States border. I believe the best way to attack the problem is a three-pronged approach of education, enforcement and treatment. Our agency will continue to use all of the resources available to do our part of that local enforcement, but it would help tremendously to see a more secure border.” 

STAFFING: ALWAYS A CHALLENGE

Lindsey said the TCSD currently has one vacancy for a deputy and will soon have another, as an officer recently gave his two-week notice to take a higher-paying job at Fort Leonard Wood.

Texas County Sheriff Scott Lindsey took office in 2018 and is in the middle of his first full term. He will be up for re-election in 2024.

Lindsey said the higher-pay factor is a constant obstacle.

“The biggest struggle we have right now is maintaining our staff,” he said. “We’ve had huge staffing issues in the jail, and that’s mostly fueled by people finding better-paying jobs outside of law enforcement. When we have fast-food places here in town paying 14 or 15 dollars an hour to start, it’s difficult for us to compete with that.

“It’s not that these guys don’t want to do law enforcement, and they love Texas County and will tell you that, but when the opportunity is there to make a lot more money and pass those benefits along to their family, it’s hard for them to turn it down and it’s hard for me to recommend otherwise.”

SEEKING A STEADY INCOME SOURCE

This April, Texas County voters will have a say in the future of funding for the TCSD, as a 3/8-cent sales tax will be on the ballot that would exclusively benefit the department.

Lindsey said voters need to be aware that the funds would go into an account that could only be accessed by the sheriff’s department, and that none could ever be used in any other form of county expenditure.

“Sometimes we feel like our tax money isn’t spent the way it should be,” Lindsey said. “The No. 1 question I’ve heard is, ‘can this new revenue be diverted to new projects?’ The simple answer is no; it goes into a trust fund that can only be used for one purpose.”   

Lindsey said ways the funds would be utilized include, addressing the low-pay problem with raises for all officers, adding a couple of deputies, maintaining and improving the department’s fleet and increased and better training.

The raises would put the deputies’ pay in line with that of local police officers, who currently make substantially more.

“One of my goals is to offer competitive wages,” Lindsey said. “I’m not really a guy who is usually a proponent of more taxes, but without a separate source of revenue it’s going to be difficult to pay competitive wages. We have a problem with people not wanting to go into law enforcement to begin with, and when on top of that our department pays so much less than the police departments and nowhere close to what the highway patrol pays, it’s difficult to keep experienced, well-trained officers.

“And even if you’re not a big fan of law enforcement, you still want officers who are trained well and will do a good job of hindering bad outcomes. It takes money to do that.”

Lindsey said the proposed tax would be a huge boost with regard to training.

“The cost of everything has gone up,” he said. “But in our business, ammunition is expensive and is often hard to get. And that’s something law enforcement needs to train on; going out on the range and qualifying on their weapons once a year is not sufficient.

“We need officers who are well trained on that, and on everything else on their belt as well.”

One personnel move the tax would allow for would be the addition of a detective, Lindsey said.

“My guys are great about getting out and answering their calls,” he said, “but they’re so busy, they don’t have as much time as I would like to follow up on investigations. I feel like we can do better at that, but we need a little more manpower to do it.”

Lindsey said the county commission would not cut the TCSD’s existing budget.

“The tax funds would be in addition to that,” he said.

The wording on the ballot is such that the funds would be protected in the future and always remain as an income source exclusively for the TCSD.

“Commissioners change and sheriffs change,” Lindsey said, “and that gives us some protection in the future.”

Lindsey said he’s grateful that the TCSD’s current staff consists of top-notch personnel.

“The team I have make my job a lot easier,” he said. “It would be impossible to do this job effectively without a good team behind me. The goal is to make Texas County a better place and to help our citizens. I’m fortunate to have people who understand that and who want to make a difference.”

The bottom line, Lindsey said, is that the sheriff’s department has a critical need for its own source of revenue.

“I feel like we’re being reasonable in what we’re asking for,” he said, “and if the tax doesn’t pass it’s going to be very hard for us to have the resources we need – that’s just the facts.”

There would be no sunset on the tax.

“The county, for many years, has attempted to use short-term solutions to this issue,” Lindsey said, “such as grant funding or emergency funds. The county has reached the point that the temporary solutions are no longer able to keep up with the problem of not being able to pay competitive wages, properly train and equip the sheriff’s office and jail. This proposal is a long-term answer to fix those issues. 

“That’s why the county commissioners and I have chosen to put this before the people and ask them to give us what we need to do the job.”

The phone number at the TCSD is 417-967-4165.

TCSD STATISTICS FROM 2021

Total activity: 9,427

Written reports: 1,307

VIOLENT CRIME REPORTS

•Murder – 0

•Involuntary manslaughter – 1

•First-degree assault – 4

•Rape – 7

•Robbery – 1

•Weapons offense – 6

NOTABLE CATEGORIES

•Information/assistance: 2,836

•Traffic stops: 640

•Animal issues: 296

•Stealing: 243

•Domestic disturbance: 239

•Harassment: 117

•Trespassing: 112

•Fugitive: 109

•Property damage: 78

•Disturbance/fight: 73

•Burglary: 55

•Assault: 54

REPORTS BY AREA

Houston: 316

Licking: 228

Cabool: 145

Raymondville: 121

Plato: 64

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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