The number of registered sex offenders in Bell County has become overwhelming for the sheriff’s department’s young Special Crimes Unit, prompting the agency to reorganize and dedicate more manpower to enforcement.
After Sheriff Eddy Lange took office in January, he created the Special Crimes Unit to focus on enforcing sex offender registry laws, criminal interdiction and performing polygraphs.
Since the unit’s creation, the supervising lieutenant found too much time is required to enforce the sex offender registry, Deputy Sheriff Chuck Cox said. The registry is a database that allows law enforcement to track sex offenders.
Depending on the terms of their sentences, sex offenders are required to regularly provide certain information, such as their current address and place of employment, and provide immediate updates when it changes.
Cox said Lt. Michele Cianci, whom Lange hired to lead the Special Crimes Unit this year, quickly began to marvel at how Cox was ever able to keep up with the volume of sex offenders.
“I didn’t really keep up with it,” Cox said. “I never had the resources to go and knock on doors.”
Of the nearly 670 sex offenders registered in Bell County, about 150 reside in unincorporated areas that fall under the department’s jurisdiction.
In comparison, Killeen has 243 registered sex offenders with a designated police force that dwarfs the number of sheriff’s deputies not detailed to the jail or courts.
The reorganization will allow Cianci to place more focus on enforcing those laws, Cox said.
The agency essentially cut the unit’s responsibilities in half, moving half of the Special Crime Unit’s staff into patrol.
Four deputies who had been a part of the criminal interdiction — essentially finding serious crimes and wanted criminals through traffic law enforcement — were moved to the agency’s patrol division, Cox said.
“They’re the ones that look for bad guys in vehicles,” Cox said. “It’s a better fit under patrol.”
The reorganization is one of many changes made to the sheriff’s office since Lange took the reins from Dan Smith, who retired after more than two decades as sheriff.
Some changes have been superficial, such as renaming the agency the Bell County Sheriff’s Department from the Bell County Sheriff’s Office, along with changing decals on patrol vehicles.
Other changes included a vow to increase traffic patrol, which was largely left to state troopers in unincorporated parts of the county.
Department heads hoped to increase the number of deputies for patrol when making budget requests last year. But Bell County Commissioners opted to keep the staff size roughly the same.
Cox said the department is now pursuing the creation of a crisis intervention team, which would assess the mental health of people in trouble with the law.