Breckenridge Texan

City Commission votes to continue with separate police, sheriff departments

City Commission votes to continue with separate police, sheriff departments
February 26
13:03 2024

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

The police department and sheriff’s office will continue operating as separate entities in Breckenridge and Stephens County after a public hearing last week ended in a unanimous vote by the City Commissioners to go on maintaining their own law enforcement agency and to proceed with a search for a new police chief.

Breckenridge City Manager Cynthia Northrop and City Secretary Jessica Sutter listen as former sheriff Will Holt addresses the commission during the Feb. 22 public hearing. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

About 30-35 people were in attendance at the public hearing held by the City of Breckenridge on Thursday, Feb. 22, to discuss the possibility of combining the Breckenridge Police Department and the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office. City Manager Cynthia Northrop had been researching the topic at the direction of the city commissioners following their regular meeting on Feb. 6, when the idea of combining the two agencies was presented by a local resident as a cost-saving measure.

During the public hearing, several citizens addressed the commissioners with their thoughts on the concept and Northrop presented her research.

“I’ve seen a lot of people digging in their heels on both sides, saying that it’s right or it’s wrong to go one way or the other. And so I’m here to tell you that … there’s no inherently right or wrong avenue to go,” former Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt said. “It’s not…wrong to consolidate. … On the flip side, there’s nothing wrong with moving forward with a police department, as long as it’s done correctly.”

Part of Northrop’s presentation included a look at the City and County budgets for law enforcement and what kind of savings might be achieved by combining the two. “The bottom line is, I think in the first year, you’re going to see a savings of about $70,000. In the out years, that could be anywhere from $80-$100,000 savings going forward,” she said.

Those numbers were based on the budgets, not actual costs, she explained. Additionally, her calculations were based on the plan of having two officers on duty in the city limits and two on duty outside the city limits at all times. Over the past several years, the city has only had an average of one to one and a half patrol officers on duty at a time, Northrop said.

Northrop also discussed her research into Garza County and the City of Post, which combined their law enforcement services in 2015. City Commissioner Vince Moore pointed out that the reason Garza County was studied is because it is a similar situation to Breckenridge’s — a county with only one municipality. However, he said that in Garza County, 82 percent of the population lives in the city of Post. In Stephens County, 57 percent of the population lives in Breckenridge and 43 percent lives in the county, and that makes the comparisons uneven.

Breckenridge City Commissioner Vince Moore, right, talks about some of the differences between Stephens County and Garza County, which combined law enforcement services with the City of Post. Also pictured is Commissioner Gary Mercer. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

In concluding her presentation, Northrop listed the pros for combining the two agencies as increased service coverage, if fully staffed; consistent law enforcement throughout the city and county; and reduction in crime due to the increased coverage. The cons for combining the services included a reduction in salary, benefits and seniority for the City officers, as well as a decrease in employee morale due to the transition. Click here to see the meeting’s agenda packet, which includes documents referenced by Northrop.

Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims, who has had 52 years of law enforcement experience, said another thing that needs to be considered is the training and safety of the officers. He also talked about the cooperation and assistance that the various law enforcement agencies have provided each other over the years.

City Commissioner Rob Durham said that he is invested in the work the City has been doing regarding the police department. “Our law enforcement that we have with the city and with the county are more cohesive now than we’ve had in the years that I’ve been here in the community,” he said. “And I think we need to build off of that. I think (combining the police and sheriff’s departments) would erase … every plan that we have for the community moving forward; I think that would just all be or be erased. I think the deal that we have with the chief as far as the hiring process, I think Cynthia will do great.

“I’m thinking vision down the years, because I think that’s why Breckenridge is kind of in the position that we’re in now,” Durham continued. “Because in the ’80s, there wasn’t much vision for 2024. Well, we’re in 2024, so I want to have vision for 2048. What are we going to do 20 years from now?”

Following additional discussion, Durham made the motion to “continue the City law enforcement services and authorize the city manager to proceed with hiring the police chief.” All of the commissioners and the mayor voted to approve the motion.

The City of Breckenridge is seeking to hire a new police chief after the former chief, Bacel Cantrell, recently resigned. Cantrell’s last day in the position was Feb. 1. Tommy Williams is serving as the interim police chief, hired through the City’s contract with Strategic Government Resources.

The search for a permanent police chief is being handled in-house by the City. A committee has been appointed to oversee the search and includes Mayor Bob Sims, City Commissioner Gary Mercer, City Manager Cynthia Northrop, Stephens County Sheriff Kevin Roach and Eric Debus, the police chief in the Rhome, the city where Northrop previously worked.

Breckenridge City Commissioner Rob Durham expresses his support of the Breckenridge Police Department at the public hearing on Feb. 22. Pictured from right are Commissioner Blake Hamilton, Durham, Mayor Bob Sims, Commissioners Vince Moore and Gary Mercer, Breckenridge Fire Chief Malcolm Bufkin and former sheriff Will Holt. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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