RICHMOND (Covering Katy News/Covering Fort Bend News) – The pressure is mounting on the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office over its newly enacted emergency dispatch procedures that no longer sends the nearest deputy to 911 calls.
DEMOCRATIC OPPONENT RESPONDS
“This is unconscionable to put in jeopardy the safety of Fort Bend citizens who call 911 for service,” said Democratic sheriff candidate Eric Fagan, who expects to challenge Republican Sheriff Troy Nehls in the next election. “People who call 911 want the nearest law enforcement officer to respond. Being in law enforcement for over 34 years I know it takes only seconds for an incident to turn from minor to major.”
REPUBLICAN COMMISSIONER KEEPS PRESSURE ON NEHLS
The criticism of Nehls’ policy is bipartisan, as Republican Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers is not backing down from his call for dispatching responsibilities to be removed from the Sheriff’s Office and put in the hands of an independent agency unless Nehls reverts back to his original dispatch plan.
“The sheriff had a policy of dispatching the nearest law enforcement officer to a call,” said Meyers. “The sheriff changed that policy effective Jan. 1, whereby only regular sheriff deputies and no constable deputies were dispatched to calls. There are some instances where a constable deputy is closest to a call and would be the logical law enforcement officer dispatched to that call. I would hope the sheriff would revert to his previous policy of dispatching the nearest law enforcement officer to a call to ensure the fastest response,” Meyers said.
On Jan. 1, 2019, the Sheriff’s Office stopped dispatching calls to the nearest available unit whether it be a deputy constable or a deputy sheriff and began only dispatching to Sheriff’s Office units. The move came following months of open criticism of the Sheriff’s Office toward Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson.
REPUBLICAN SHERIFF NEHLS DEFENDS DECISION TO CHANGE DISPATCH PROCEDURES
Sheriff Nehls’ office published a press release Monday claiming that response times have improved by 14 seconds under the new plan.
“Upon review of response times we can report the following,” said the press release. “In Patrol Districts 2, 3 and 5 (this is the area that covers most of Fort Bend County Precinct 3) we compared the average response time to dispatched calls for service in the six month period of July – December 2018 versus January 2019 (the month we made the change). The result is that we saw a 14.4-second reduction in average response time to dispatched calls for service.”
REPUBLICAN CONSTABLE THOMPSON DISMISSES NEHLS’ NUMBERS
Constable Thompson said the Sheriff’s Office comparison can’t be taken seriously.
“They’ve picked two months from this year to compare to the last six months that were the busiest times of the year. You have July Fourth and New Year’s Eve in the previous six months,” Thompson said. “That period is going to be much busier than January,” he added.
NEHLS DOUBLES DOWN ON CRITICISM OF THOMPSON
While it was Commissioner Meyers who called for dispatch to be removed from the purview of the Sheriff’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office press release never mentioned the commissioner by name. The press release focused all criticism on Thompson.
“One Constable’s Office (Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson) did not like this change and has put out information that has alarmed people and created a political scenario based upon fear and not reality,” the press release said.
Thompson says he reached out publicly by email to homeowners association managers who have contracted with his office to provide patrols. Thompson said he wanted the HOAs to know about the new dispatch procedure because he feared it would impact service to the neighborhoods that are paying his office for patrols and timely response to calls.
“We received complaints (about response times), and we responded to those complaints,” Thompson said. “The changes that they’ve made do not help response times,” he added.
Thompson also said the Sheriff’s Office is responding to calls that have already been cleared by his deputies and he thinks it is an attempt to make it appear on paper that the Sheriff’s Office covered the calls and the Constable’s Office did nothing.
Meyers said Thompson is not the only one who is complaining.
“Our fire marshal and our head of EMS came to us and complained about the level of service they were getting from dispatch,” Meyers said.
THOMPSON PROVIDES NEHLS MEMO THAT ADDS MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT NEHLS ACTIONS
Thompson also produced a document on Monday where he says Sheriff Nehls is attempting to poach patrol contracts from Precinct 3 seemingly as punishment for speaking out against the new dispatch procedure in his email to HOA leaders.
In the Jan. 30, 2019, letter, the Sheriff’s Office responds to Thompson’s concerns about the new dispatch procedure, and then ends with this statement:
“We will gladly take over as the supplemental service provider on any of your contracts if Constable Thompson cannot or refuses to manage the provision of service in a collaborative manner.”
THE UNDERLYING POLITICAL DRAMA
There are underlying political facts which are making knowledgeable observers feel extremely uncomfortable with Nehl’s decision to change his dispatch policy.
It is widely believed that Sheriff Nehls will run for Congress next year in the Republican primary against Rep. Pete Olson. It is also thought that Nehls’ brother, Precinct 4 Constable Trever Nehls, will run for sheriff. There is open speculation that Thompson may also run for sheriff. Given that these dispatch changes make it appear on paper that Thompson’s office is not responding to calls, Thompson says his deputies high call volume would be disguised to make it appear that he’s running an office that responds to very few calls. By doing so it could make it easier for Trever Nehls to beat Thompson in a Republican primary race for sheriff.
BELOW: Sheriff’s Office Press Release/Monday, Feb. 11, 2019
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office has been fielding some inquiries about recent changes to our Dispatching procedures. We did make a procedural change; however, it was our estimation that this change would not have any negative impact on delivery of police services in Fort Bend County. One Constable’s Office (Precinct three Constable Wayne Thompson) did not like this change and has put out information that has alarmed people and created a political scenario based upon fear and not reality. Much of the debate is technical in nature and now some who are announced as running for office in 2020 have jumped on the bandwagon and are sending out alarming and misleading information. At the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, our main goal is to dispatch police services to your home or business in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Here is the single factor that we want the public to be aware of as it applies to this topic. Upon review of response times we can report the following: In Patrol Districts 2, 3, & 5 (this is the area that covers most of Fort Bend County Precinct 3) we compared the average response time to dispatched calls for service in the six month period of July – December 2018 versus January 2019 (the month we made the change). The result is that we saw a 14.4 second reduction in average response time to dispatched calls for service. We will take improvement of service any day and in the end know that is what is expected of our dedicated employees working in Dispatch and those Deputies (Sheriff and Constable) working in the field. We are committed to public safety and always strive to look for ways to improve our delivery of services and will continue to do so even when others only look to politicize actions.
BELOW: The Sheriff’s Office memo detailing dispatch changes that are at the root of this controversy.
BELOW: Constable Wayne Thompson’s January 23 email to local Home Owners Association leaders expressing concern about Sheriff’ Nehl’s new dispatch procedures.
BELOW: Sheriff’s Office Response to the Constable Thompson informing local HOA officials of the change in dispatch procedure and his claim that it was reducing response times.
BELOW: Precinct 3 Map