Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange’s solution to a state commission’s two-year revocation of the office’s training privileges may lead to a permanent revocation.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education revoked the Bell County Sheriff’s Office training contract in late January after discovering the former training coordinator falsified training hours for several deputies and jail guards. The commission also found lesson plans were inadequate and training courses were administered improperly.
Lange said the sheriff’s office will move forward by continuing to conduct training for jail guards by entering into an agreement with another local academy, which would accredit any training performed by the sheriff’s office. But the commission’s top official said that solution is not acceptable.
“In our eyes, it is understood that they are not able to do any training and seek credit on their own,” said Kim Vickers, chief and executive director of the state commission. “It is not sufficient in the way the contract is set up and what we feel is the right thing to do.”
Lange said Friday that he had spoken with Temple Police Department, Killeen Police Department, Central Texas College and the Central Texas Council of Governments to provide accreditation in an oversight role for jail guards.
“We do look at that as a subterfuge and an attempt to bypass the spirit of the revocation,” Vickers said. “If we find that is happening, we will come and seek a permanent revocation of their contract.”
In only his second month on the job, Lange worked to make the department his own. He reshuffled leadership and made new hires, adding a purely financial position to the office’s administration.
He also changed the department’s physical appearance, altering the decal scheme to some of the office’s patrol vehicles and buying new uniforms for deputies and jail guards.
“We’re trying to get a little bit more modernized, present a new image,” Lange said when interviewed about an unrelated matter last week. “Time for new beginnings.”
Yet, he has faced a number of challenges since being sworn in just minutes after midnight Jan. 1. Two former employees within the Bell County Jail system sued Lange and the county, alleging they were forced out of the agency for supporting Lange’s opponent in last year’s Republican primary runoff.
Before Lange took office, he was already aware of issues with training. After Lange received improper training himself, he contacted the state commission, initializing the investigation that will at least temporarily cripple the department’s ability to hire new jail guards.
The investigation led to the retirement of former training coordinator Lt. Danny Kneese, whom Lange had promised to promote to jail administrator. Kneese voluntarily surrendered his peace officer’s license after the training violations came to light.
The commission’s investigation included interviews with eight Bell County Jail employees who appeared to have excessive training.
Logs showed one had taken 549 hours of training in 10 months. Another indicated an employee had accumulated 1,655 hours in four years.
Despite glaring inconsistencies, several of the jail employees told investigators they had taken all those hours in a classroom setting and that there were no errors. But one employee told investigators she would receive up to 16 hours of course credit for a lesson that only took two or three hours.
Another employee told investigators he would commonly be given course packets that contained a test along with the answer key. Those courses included lessons on crime scene investigation, child abuse prevention, racial profiling and use of force, the investigation stated.
Kneese provided all packets to the employee, it stated. He also would count hours spent exercising in the sheriff’s office’s gym as training credits.
In total, 63 of 252 Bell County Sheriff’s Office employees were credited with more than 100 hours of training during a one-year period, according to a training roster obtained through an open records request. Twenty-eight employees, nearly all jailers, logged more than 500 hours during that same period.
Deputies and jail guards are required to take 40 hours of continued training every two years to maintain their state licenses. The next training period concludes at the end of August.
The state commission likely will not act to revoke any of the training hours logged, whether fraudulent or not.