Breckenridge Texan

City of Breckenridge looks into combining police, sheriff services with Stephens County; public meeting set for Feb. 22

City of Breckenridge looks into combining police, sheriff services with Stephens County; public meeting set for Feb. 22
February 13
17:19 2024

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

The City of Breckenridge is researching the possibility of combining local law enforcement services with the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, but County officials and at least one City Commissioner aren’t necessarily on board with the idea. The City has scheduled a public, special meeting on the topic; the meeting will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, in the City Commission Chambers at 105 N. Rose Ave.

Kevin King talks to the Breckenridge City Commission about combining the police department with the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

At the Feb. 6 Breckenridge City Commission meeting, Kevin King spoke to the commissioners and other city officials, as well as County Judge Michael Roach and Sheriff Kevin Roach, who attended the meeting, about the concept of combining the Breckenridge Police Department with the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office. He questioned the commissioners on their reasons for discussing the issue in a closed-door, executive session at their January meeting, rather than in public, open session, as well as why they haven’t further pursued the idea.

On the City Commission’s Jan. 9 meeting agenda, the item was listed as under the Executive Session’s Consultation with Attorney section as “Law Enforcement Services.” Also included in the Executive Session’s Personnel Matters section were items labeled “Police Chief Recruitment” and “Interim Police Chief.” Bacel Cantrell submitted his resignation as police chief on Dec. 5; his last day on the job was Feb. 1. At the Jan. 9 meeting, the commission returned to open session and voted to contract with SGR Services for interim police chief services but didn’t publicly discuss anything related to the “Law Enforcement Services” item.

“The idea of combining the sheriff and the police department is not a new idea. It’s been kicked around privately for years,” said King, who serves on the Crimestoppers board. “… I’m just looking at it purely from a business standpoint. … If we’ve got ten (officers over here) and ten over here, we’ve got 20 people; the idea of combining with paying 13 more money to do the same job, you’re looking at a savings.

“And I think that idea was brought to you. I know it wasn’t discussed publicly. I think it needs to be discussed publicly,” King continued. “And I don’t think it needs to be just hashed out by the mayor and four commissioners under the executive session and then walk out and say, ‘We’re going down the pike to do this way.’ I think with the recent resignation of our current police chief, it provided a perfect opportunity to really get down to the nuts and bolts of ‘Would it save the community money to do it?””

Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims listens as Commissioner Blake Hamilton explains his point of view concerning a collaboration between the police department and the sheriff’s office at the Feb. 6 City Commission meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

He directly asked Mayor Bob Sims and the only two commissioners in attendance — Gary Mercer and Blake Hamilton — about what made them decide not to pursue the topic more thoroughly.

Initially, the mayor and commissioners seemed hesitant to answer King. But, following clarification from Eileen Hayman, the City of Breckenridge’s attorney, that the matter was an agenda item and open for discussion, Commissioner Blake Hamilton addressed the topic.

“Personally, I’m on board with you,” Hamilton said to King. “I don’t know enough about it, and I’m not going to claim that I do. But, I would like it to be explored, because, you know, we have one municipality and one county. I think it could be a good opportunity to, instead of having 20 patrol officers … 10 in the county, 10 in the city … do 15 and pay them a higher wage, maybe get better quality officers or more consistent effort from them. I would like to see it pursued a little more, as well.”

Commissioner Gary Mercer had a different opinion.

Breckenridge City Commissioner Gary Mercer voices his concerns about the possibility of combining the police department with the sheriff’s office. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“I don’t like the fact of my police department being ran by somebody that can be elected based on their last name, you know, nothing against against you or nothing,” Mercer said, acknowledging Michael Roach and Kevin Roach.

Mercer also mentioned a law that he didn’t realize had recently changed. Prior to Sept. 1, 2023, a person did not have to have a peace officer license or even any law enforcement experience to run for the office of county sheriff in Texas.

However, a bill authored by Sen. Phil King, who represents District 10, which includes Stephens County, changed the requirements for taking the office of sheriff. Now, in order to be eligible to serve as sheriff, a person must either (1) meet the requirements for and hold an active permanent peace officer license or (2) is eligible to be licensed and has a minimum of five years of experience as a federal special investigator or is a military veteran with a minimum of 10 years of combined active duty or national guard service experience. If the person meets the latter option, they must obtain an active permanent peace officer license within two years. Additionally, in order to serve as a sheriff, a person must have a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate.

Sheriff Kevin Roach briefly explained the change in the law and provided some feedback on the topic. “I don’t have a strong opinion either way,” he said about a possible collaboration. “I just really came tonight to hear the discussion. I mean it, obviously, would compound administrative headaches, but it’s doable.”

Both Michael Roach and Kevin King said that although the sheriff is an elected position, the police chief is hired by elected officials (the city commission). Michael Roach also brought up several other areas in which the City and the County collaborate on services, including the fire department, municipal and justice courts, and the law enforcement center.

“I think that I wouldn’t say the county is waving our arms and wanting the additional responsibility or the police department. That’s not what this is about, right?” Michael Roach said. “Rather, I think, as Kevin said, we were open to exploring the idea of any gains or benefits from consolidation.”

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach, left, and Sheriff Kevin Roach attended the City Commission meeting on Feb. 6 to hear the City’s discussion about combining the police department with the sheriff’s office. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

However, at the Feb. 12 Stephens County Commissioners meeting, Michael Roach told the county commissioners that he doesn’t expect the current situation to change. “My thoughts are that it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s just too many irons to be worked out, wrinkles,” he said. “But what I hope will happen is some plan that if things go south and you have a real severe shortage again, maybe there will be a plan that comes out of this so that we can say ‘Hey, let’s let’s look at this interlocal again,’ and create a plan in case something happens and we’re down to four or five officers, well, the county has an idea. … I’ll keep the court updated, and we’ll put it on the agenda if that becomes necessary.”

In addressing the city commission on Feb. 6, Kevin King said that he recommends that the commission research the topic and make a decision before hiring a new police chief. Tommy Williams is currently serving as the interim police chief through SGR Services.

Hamilton said that he’s interested in more information about the possibility of combining the police department and the sheriff’s office, and he made a motion for the commission to direct City Manager Cynthia Northrop to explore in more detail the budgetary savings and streamline possibilities of a collaboration. When the mayor asked for a second to the motion, Mercer did not speak and shook his head. So, Sims made the second himself. The vote passed with two votes (Sims and Hamilton) in favor of further research into the topic and one against (Mercer).

On Monday, Feb. 12, Northrop announced a public, special-called meeting that will further discuss the topic and give community members a chance to hear and provide feedback. The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, in the City Commission Chambers of city hall at 105 N. Rose Ave. (the door on the north side of the building). The meeting will be open to the public.


Cutline, top photo: Kevin King, right, talks to the Breckenridge City Commission about the idea of combining the police department with the sheriff’s office. Also pictured, from left, are City Commissioner Blake Hamilton, City Attorney Eileen Hayman, City Manager Cynthia Northrop and County Constable Wayne McMullen. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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