By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Divergent philosophies about the enforcement mission of the Bell County Sheriff's Office's patrol division has placed two Republican candidates at odds with each other.
Sheriff candidate Eddy Lange, Precinct 3 county commissioner, wants to increase the size of the patrol division, which has 21 deputies, and enlarge its role in traffic stops.
But sheriff candidate Bob Patterson, a former Bell County Jail administrator, wants to keep retiring Sheriff Dan Smith's policy of relying on the Texas Department of Public Safety to monitor unincorporated areas and highways within the county.
Lange's stance has drawn criticism on the campaign trail, with his Republican opponents saying he wants to increase the number of county traffic citations to generate a revenue stream.
Under Smith, who is leaving office at the end of the year, Bell County deputies have written few traffic tickets. In 2011, deputies wrote less than one ticket a week, or 34 traffic tickets for the entire year.
In the past seven years, Bell County deputies have made only one arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Williamson County sheriff's detective John Foster, who also serves as the department's spokesman, estimated deputies in that county issued "millions" of traffic citations during the seven-year period in which Bell County deputies wrote 274 tickets.
Foster said Williamson County deputies more than likely write more traffic citations in one day than Bell County patrol officers did in all of 2011.
Smith, who has served seven terms as Bell County's top law enforcement official, attached a written statement to an open records request for traffic citations explaining his ticket policy.
He wrote that each Bell County deputy assigned to patrol is responsible for 350 square miles. The deputies are authorized to write traffic tickets, but they spend most of their time responding to calls for service. "In other words," wrote Smith, "we simply do not have time to work traffic on a regular basis."
But Bell County deputies do pull over suspected intoxicated drivers. Although only one DWI arrest is attributed to them since 2005, deputies refer suspected drivers to state troopers.
"These 'referral arrests' do not show up on our arrest statistics but are just as effective in getting intoxicated people off of the streets," wrote Smith.
In support of Smith's traffic citation policy, Patterson said that state troopers are highly trained in determining if a driver is intoxicated. "I'm not going to increase traffic enforcement," he said. "We have those resources available to us."
If elected, Lange said he would review the department's policy and reallocate sheriff's deputies to grow the patrol division. He said he wants more patrol officers to use as interdiction tools to find people with outstanding warrants or who might be committing other crimes.
"Most criminals drive vehicles," said Lange. "So I'm for making traffic stops to make contacts with these people. Warrants can be served in traffic stops, contraband can be seized, including drugs, money and guns."
Patterson, however, disputes Lange's reasons for wanting to increase personnel in the patrol division. "When (increasing patrols) first came up, it did come up in the venue of a revenue generating resource," he said. "Apparently that position has changed."
Lange's proposed patrol change has led to campaign endorsements from Bell County's two police organizations that represent officers in Killeen, Harker Heights, Temple, Belton and other municipalities.
"He has expressed that his vision is to increase the enforcement aspect, which is greatly needed for the protection of citizens and the protection of deputies that assist the citizens," said Sandra Hunt, president of the West Bell County Fraternal Order of Police.
Patterson, who has been endorsed by the outgoing Smith, said: "The way he's run our sheriff's office, for him to say he's got the full confidence in me means so much."
Smith was not reachable for comment.
Early voting for county, state and federal primary races starts Monday. The primary election is May 29.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.
Bell County Sheriff's Office traffic citations
Source: Bell County Sheriff's Office