BELTON — The Bell County Sheriff’s Office will create a new unit to combat sex and drug crimes.
Sheriff Eddy Lange said he will hire a new lieutenant in April to head up the Special Crimes Unit. The chief duties of the unit will be enforcement of sexual offender registration and criminal interdiction.
The unit will require no new positions, Lange said. The sheriff’s office will reorganize slightly, with one sergeant and three deputies placed under the new lieutenant.
The department has already selected someone in local law enforcement for the position, however, Lange would not name the candidate.
Lange said he will eventually ask county commissioners to fund several new positions within the unit in an effort to double its size,
The Special Crimes Unit is the latest move by Lange to alter the structure of the sheriff’s office since he succeeded former Sheriff Dan Smith in January.
A portion of the unit will concentrate on locating criminals involved in drug trade and human tracking through traffic enforcement. Pulling drivers over for traffic infractions can lead officers to discover that more serious crimes are taking place.
“Most of your criminals are driving vehicles, and that’s one way to put a dent in your crime,” Lange said.
Interstate 35, U.S. Highway 190 and Texas State Highway 195 are all well known among law enforcement as delivery arteries for drugs.
“The cartels are moving drugs north and money south,” Lt. Donnie Adams said.
Increased traffic enforcement — a policy Lange campaigned on — is something new for the sheriff’s office. Under the previous administration, deputies wrote few tickets, ceding most traffic enforcement to municipal police departments and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
In 2012, deputies wrote only 22 tickets, Lange said. In January, deputies issued 10 citations. It is an increase, but still a relatively low number, Lange said.
Deputies will have to be certified for using radar guns and take classes on writing citations and creating reports.
The training will not involve the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. “All training will be in-service.” Lange said.
The state commission recently revoked the sheriff’s office’s ability to perform state accredited training after investigators discovered numerous deputies had been given credit for training hours that never took place and that training practices were often improper.
The Special Crimes Unit will make gang activity a part of its focus. Though the unincorporated parts of Bell County have little to no street gangs, deputies will investigate drug cartel activity on the highways and gang activity in the county jail.
The sheriff’s office has added a K-9 unit — a bomb sniffing dog and companion deputy, which will be a part of the unit. It will also encompass fugitive apprehension and polygraph testing.
The second major focus of the unit will be enforcing registration requirements for sexual offenders. The unincorporated areas of Bell County are home to 143 sexual offenders, Chief Deputy Chuck Cox said.
Every time registered sex offenders move or change jobs, they must contact local authorities with their updated information or else face felony charges. Lange described the process as a paperwork nightmare.
Eventually, Lange said, he hopes to have a sergeant overseeing registration.