NEWS HEADLINES

Partners in crime fighting; Chico uses unique agreement with Sheriff’s Office for police coverage

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, February 15, 2014

Galen Wiley jokes that he’s the smallest city police department in Texas.

Luckily, he’s got plenty of backup from the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

No Lone Wolf

NO LONE WOLF – Chico Police officer Galen Wiley drives the city’s lone patrol car. Four Wise County deputies have contracted with the city to join Wiley in providing police coverage. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Chico residents may have noticed a Chico city police car cruising around town since last October or maybe parked in front of Wiley’s store. It’s been at least a decade since the city last had its own police department.

“When Chico basically defunded their own independent police department before I got on the council, the citizens were really disappointed in that because there is a pride in having your own police department and the feeling of security. It simply wasn’t economically feasible anymore,” Mayor J.D. Clark said.

In the meantime, the city has relied on the Sheriff’s Office resident deputy program to provide police coverage, which was started by former Wise County Sheriff Phil Ryan to help small Wise County towns. In the early days of the program, a deputy would live in the city where they were assigned. Current Wise County Sheriff David Walker said the benefits are twofold: it gives a deputy the chance to earn extra money, and it provides city residents with the peace of mind knowing an officer is patrolling their neighborhoods.

Over the years since it was first implemented in Chico, the resident deputy program has been used in other towns such as Aurora and New Fairview. Decatur, Bridgeport, Runaway Bay, Boyd and Rhome have their own fully-staffed police departments.

About a year ago, Clark said the city began talking with Chief Deputy Doug Whitehead about a possible “hybrid” program that partnered a Chico police officer with resident deputies. Clark said Whitehead, a former Chico police chief, said it was time to “bring the Chico Police Department back out of the shadows.”

Wiley, a former full-time Chico police officer, maintained his certification in case the city ever decided to resurrect the department. His full-time job is owner of Wiley Hardware and Supply on the Chico Square, but he said he missed being an officer. Business is often slow in the winter months and in the current economy, so a part-time police officer position provides a welcome supplement to his income.

The Chico police car he drives was bought with his own money, and he leases it to the city for $100 a year.

“I found a car in Branson, Mo., and it had nearly all the equipment left in it,” Wiley said. “I just had to add a radio and a video camera, and it was ready to go.”

Bridgeport’s Ink’N'Stitch donated the graphics for the vehicle.

Four resident, or contract, deputies worked for the city providing coverage four nights a week prior to last October. The addition of Wiley provides the city with a fifth night of coverage and allows for more flexible scheduling, including weekends. Wiley works at his store during the day, but if something serious happens in the city such as a medical emergency or a wreck, he can respond quickly, often arriving before the fire department or medics.

It didn’t take long for Wiley to be dispatched to his first call after returning to duty last fall.

“The very first night on duty, they dispatched me to a domestic disturbance within three minutes. I just laughed to myself. I wouldn’t expect anything less,” he said.

Having officers – whether it’s deputies or a police officer – on regular patrol in the city also helps deter crime from happening in the first place.

“Preventative patrol is what law enforcement is about – to be proactive rather than reactive,” Walker said.

The good relationship between the city and the Sheriff’s Office has been key to the program’s success, Clark said, and could be a blueprint for other towns in a similar tight budget situation.

“Now Galen is able to work as a partner with the county guys, and we’ve been able to increase our police presence without jumping off into some project we can’t sustain for the long-term,” Clark said. “I think it is a good model for other communities using the resident deputy program. Instead of just jumping into ‘Let’s try to fund a full-on police department,’ maybe there are some more opportunities to do a collaboration between the city and the county.”

Whitehead continues to work in an advisory capacity with the city on security issues.

Wiley said if Chico citizens have an emergency, dial 911. For a non-emergency, call the Sheriff’s Office at 940-627-5971.

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