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County leaders discuss crime challenges

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The Town of Copper Canyon recently hosted 61 area mayors, police chiefs and other officials for a Mayor’s Luncheon on the topic: “2012 Crime Challenges for Denton County.”

Special Guests of the Mayors were our law enforcement officers and emergency responders, elected officials, and Board Members for the non-profit organizations serving abused children in our County.

In attendance at the luncheon were nine Mayors and five Council Members; 13 Police Chiefs**; Sheriff Benny Parkey, the Sheriff’s new Chief Deputy Blaise Mikulewicz, Denton County Jail Administrator Roy Davenport, and Copper Canyon’s two Deputies David Berry and Jess Moran; District Attorney Paul Johnson; County Commissioners Hugh Coleman, Andy Eads and Bobbie Mitchell; State Legislators Myra Crownover and Andy Eads; Erik With, the District Director for U.S. Congressman Michael Burgess; Max Miller, Board Member of Lantana’s Fresh Water Supply District #6; City Managers Harlan Jefferson of Flower Mound,  Douglas Mousel of Oak Point, and our own Donna Welsh of Copper Canyon ;Fire Chiefs Mac Hohenberger of the Argyle Volunteer Fire District, Joe Dent of Double Oak, Eric Metzger of Flower Mound, Jim Carter of Emergency Services District #1’s Board, and Denton County Fire Marshal and Director of Emergency Services Jody Gonzalez; CASA Board Member Jean Campbell and Children’s Advocacy Center Board Member Tamara Cuthrell; and Copper Canyon resident and professional photographer Bill Castleman, who volunteered to take  the candid and group photographs of the luncheon guests.

Our featured speaker was the Sheriff’s Office’s new Chief Deputy, Blaise Mikulewicz, recently successfully recruited by Sheriff Parkey.  Blaise’s career with the FBI has spanned 23 years.  He is the immediate former Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Dallas Field Division.  This is one of the FBI’s four Field Divisions in Texas.  Its territory spans from Texarkana, Tyler, Lufkin to Dallas, Frisco, Sherman, Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Abilene, Lubbock and San Angelo.  In other words, from the Oklahoma border south almost to Waco and from Texarkana west to Lubbock. Needless to say, a huge area of responsibility for criminal investigations.

Dallas Metroplex is a Major Distribution Center for Narcotics Controlled by the Mexican Drug Cartels
At 6’6” tall with size 14 Narrow western boots supporting his tall, lean frame, DSCO Chief Deputy Blaise Mikulewicz looks like the re-incarnation of one of our State’s historic Texas Rangers.  However, when he begins quietly speaking, it is immediately obvious that this man is an expert in the current business profession of law enforcement and criminal investigations.  Blaise especially wanted the officials attending to be aware that the Dallas Metroplex is a major distribution center for narcotics controlled by the Mexican drug Cartels.  And the Cartels have brought their enforcement techniques across the border to North Texas, including beatings, disfigurement, torture, kidnappings, and executions.  The kidnappings are often NOT reported to law enforcement by the family of the person kidnapped; because the family already realizes that the kidnapping is Cartel inspired and related to some malfunction in the kidnapped person’s buying, selling or transporting of narcotics.  (Typically, a narcotics shipment was lost to confiscation by a law enforcement agency.  But the individual transporting the drugs is still held accountable by the Cartel for the purchase value – and sometimes even the inflated “street sale” value – of those lost drugs.  And you think credit card interest rates are onerous!?!)

Heroin continues to be one of the major drugs trafficked within Denton County; and our Denton County ambulance crews are dealing with more overdoses from this drug when they respond to medical emergencies.  Heroin and methamphetamine are not normally manufactured in the United States.  Therefore purchases of both drugs immediately sends money south across the border to fund the increasingly violent Mexican Cartels.  Realizing the significance of the Dallas Metroplex being a transportation and/or trans-shipment point for Cartel drugs, the FBI’s national headquarters staffed the Dallas Division with a rare “full squad” to deal with the Mexican Cartels.  This “Hybrid Squad” was designed to deal with not only the drug trafficking aspect of the Cartels, but violent crimes associated with the Cartels such as kidnappings, extortions and gun related violence associated with the sale and distribution of illegal drugs.  The Dallas Division’s Hybrid Squad was so successful that it is now recognized as a model for FBI Field Divisions in other parts of the United States tackling rampant narcotics distribution channels.

Criminal Gangs Operating Locally in North Texas
Gangs tend to organize around ethnic and racial ties – and then diversify according to special interests.  For example, from 2009 through 2010 the FBI targeted the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang based in Fort Worth.  Significant arrests disrupted and ultimately dismantled that gang’s leadership, but remnant members still remain within Denton County.  The FBI remains vigilant that when it cripples one gang, a competing gang such as the Hells Angels (another motorcycle gang) does not move in to fill the void created.

In 2010 the Denton County Sheriff’s Office identified 149 gang members in the Denton County Jail.  Several of the major gangs identified include, but are not limited to, the following:  The Peckerwoods which are a pro white street gang or group which exhibits standard Aryan symbols; the Rebel Riders which are an outlaw motorcycle gang and a recognized affiliated support club associated with the Bandido Outlaw Motorcycle Gang; the Aryan Brotherhood which are a white supremacist prison gang and the Aryan Circle which adheres to more traditional white separatist ideologies.  The Crips are a predominantly African-American based gang; the Latin Kings are Hispanic and Chicago based; and the very violent Barrio Aztecas is a Hispanic gang based in El Paso and predominantly a West Texas gang.  The Texas Syndicate has been one of the largest Hispanic prison-based gangs that Law Enforcement has had to deal with within the Metroplex. However with the recent dismantlement and disruption of this gang by the FBI, Puro Tango Blast or PTB has been identified as a fast rising Hispanic gang with large factions in Houston and San Antonio.  “Tango” is considered to be the top emerging threat to replace the Texas Syndicate gang within the Dallas Metroplex.

North Texas jails are identifying gang members who are present inmates, and North Texas police departments are identifying individual gang members who are operating in their vicinity.  Cooperative investigations across police department boundaries are helping identify the inter-related connections of the gang members.  Investigators are working to identify criminal activities and associations such as:  where their associates are and how they are related; do gang members travel across state lines to facilitate their criminal activity; family members and best friends who support the gang members illegal activities; who or where do gang members usually fence stolen property; which transportation routes do they usually use to move drugs; and which types of vehicles do they favor for drug transportation.  Several gangs and their members have been identified as being enforcers for the larger Cartels and have been involved in shootings, extortions and/or kidnappings. The smaller local gangs are more likely to be involved in property thefts or minor drug dealing.

Current Expansion of the Denton County Jail
When the current jail was built and opened in 2004, it had extra capacity and bed space was rented out to hold federal prisoners.  These fed funds provided extra income for operatin
g the Denton County Jail.  But our county has exploded in population growth since then.  And the need for inmate beds for local criminals has increased correspondingly.  This Phase One jail expansion will add 384 beds, including 24 dedicated to mentally ill inmates. (192 beds in temporary barracks will be dismantled.)  In two years the Denton County Jail will accommodate 1,592 beds.

Sheriff Benny Parkey, Jail Administrator Roy Danbury, and our County Commissioners Judge Mary Horn, Hugh Coleman, Andy Eads, Ron Marchant, and Bobbie Mitchell have incorporated one major cost saving feature in their jail expansion plans.  The jail is being designed as a “pod” system.  The complex can be expanded four times in the future, but will use the same identical architectural and engineering plans for each additional “pod”.  This is a substantial savings in construction expense for our county tax payers.

The Denton County Jail is a “city within a city,” with currently 362 detention officers and approximately 1,300 prisoners.  The jail must provide food, beds, minimum prison clothing, laundry, bathing facilities, minimum medical services, and security to prevent prisoners from escaping and to protect inmates from predatory violent fellow inmates.  Denton County is very fortunate to have very experienced Jail Administrator Roy Danbury, whose professional approach provides a county jail that is both economically and humanely managed.

Most small and medium sized towns in Denton County – actually, probably in all of Texas – do not want the expense, responsibility or liability of operating a local jail facility.  It can be a security nightmare for a community, if not done intelligently and professionally.  And it requires a large staff of jail attendants to do it properly. So if our local law enforcement officers arrest a suspected DWI, a thief, or a person with an outstanding warrant – they take them to the Denton County Jail for booking and holding.  We are all indebted to our County officials for providing this invaluable service for our local towns.

Sheriff Parkey’s Highly Respected “Work-Release” Program
However, not all prisoners serving jail time are violent. Some are serving time for hot checks, shop lifting, failure to pay child support, etc.  And many need desperately to work, for they are the only means of support for their families and children. Employment is also the only way some convicted felons can pay court-ordered “restitution” to their victims. Thus Sheriff Parkey has devised a very successful “work release” program.  These inmates are released Monday morning through Friday afternoon to work at their regular employment.  On weekends, they are incarcerated in the county jail and only these weekend days are counted towards satisfying their sentence. The number of male “work-release” prisoners has averaged in the 40’s to 70’s per month in 2011.  Female work-release prisoners have averaged 4 to 16 per month in 2011. (Females are statistically a much smaller percentage of the total county jail population.) However, the county cannot legally release this bed space vacated during the work week to accommodate other prisoners

Accurate Crime Statistics are a major source of Grant Funds from the State
Sheriff Parkey emphasized to the Denton County police chiefs attending the importance of inputting accurate crime statistics and asked for their cooperation.  Accurate coding of the details of a crime is key to law enforcement agencies receiving grant money from the State.  The grant funds are used to provide equipment, training and personnel for police departments and also for victims’ shelters.  Unfortunately, the computer coding process for crimes has become as minutely detailed as the input of medical data for reimbursement by medical insurers.  Counties have until September 1st of this year to complete crime statistics accurately for the years 2006 through 2010.  The State has designated the County Clerk as the county official responsible for inputting this data into the State’s criminal database. But the County Clerk must first receive the relevant information, accurately coded, from the individual police departments and the Sheriff’s Office.  Cynthia Mitchell is Denton County’s elected County Clerk and responsible for the accuracy of the final input of this crime data.

The Sheriff summarized by saying that “Counties stand to lose millions in grant money if criminal information isn’t put into the state database.”  Ultimately, the accuracy of the statistics from Texas’s criminal database allows law enforcement officials to foresee trends in crime and respond proactively.  These are not just empty numbers.  They are valuable tools in our “smart fight” against crime.  A way that all law enforcement groups can share the information gathered from their various criminal investigations.  Shared knowledge and cooperation across political boundaries brings dynamic strength to our united fight against the drug cartels and local gangs that wreak such havoc in our communities.

Crime Updates by Individual Denton County Mayors and Police Chiefs
The Mayor and Police Chief of each Town attending the luncheon were asked to briefly update their fellow officials on one positive law enforcement item their Town had accomplished in the past year – and one crime issue in their immediate area that concerned them for the coming year 2012.  It was very interesting to listen to the various concerns – some were unique, some overlapped.

City of Lewisville and Flower Mound: Increasing “Identity Theft”
Both Lewisville and Flower Mound mentioned increased “identity theft” incidents.  (And there were many heads in the room nodding in agreement.)  Police Chief Russ Kerbow and Police Chief Kenneth Brooker both agreed that this is a crime that escalates to credit card abuse and fraud.  Identity Theft is considered a crime “non preventable by law enforcement personnel.”  It is a crime that is primarily prevented by each citizen being scrupulous in surveying his own bank accounts, credit card statements, brokerage statements, and credit bureau reports for any unusual activity.  And for individuals getting in the habit of routinely destroying paper trails that a thief could use to identify critical information on personal financial accounts.

Lewisville’s very experienced Police Chief Russ Kerbow said that investigation of Identity Theft crimes is “incredibly complex, involving use of computers, smart phones, and internet access.”  The Chief also said that the “level of cooperation that we have among law enforcement groups in Denton County is exceptional!  And not seen in other parts of our State and in the country in general.”  He concluded with a very descriptive comment, “We play well in the sandbox together!”  (I couldn’t agree more.  This Mayors annual meeting on “2012 Crime Challenges for Denton County” is a perfect example of local officials being willing to combine resources and exchange information to face local criminal issues head-on!)

City of Denton: Repeat Offenders Commit an Overwhelming Majority of Local Crimes
The City of Denton’s new Police Chief Lee Howell said his department was in the process of compiling a list of the 500 local offenders with the most repeat offenses.  “Drop” stands for “Denton Repeat Offenders Program.”  Criteria for being included on the list include the severity of the offenses, recentness of the latest offenses, and frequency of the offenses committed.  Chief Howell said “We are using technology to quantify what law enforcement officials have intuitively known for a long time. The old law enforcement adage that ‘10% of the offenders commit 90% of the crimes’ is basically true.  A seasoned criminal is a habitual, repeat offender.”  Chief Howell is using computers to create an in
formation database from a variety of different sources.  He is also striving to eliminate “blue on blue” – or law enforcement officers duplicating investigation efforts, instead of building cooperatively on what information data is already known.

Mayor Mark Burroughs supported his Police Chief, saying “In this Information Age, we are spending our resources to identify those who perpetrate most of our crimes.  We are alerting our police officers to identify criminal persons who do NOT respect the law.”

Northlake: Interstate I-35 East and West – South to North Drug Running Routes
Northlake’s Mayor Pete Dewing had asked me to present his ongoing law enforcement concern.  Most of the drug runners coming from Mexico and the Texas border use US Highway I-35 to drive north.  When they reach Hillsboro, those whose destination is beyond Denton County usually choose to travel I-35W.  It makes logical sense.  From Hillsboro to Dallas to Denton via I-35E is a series of border-to-border towns with large police forces patrolling the Interstate.  However, I-35W from Hillsboro to Cleburne is a fairly rural stretch of highway, as is the highway stretch from Northlake north of Fort Worth to the far side of Denton where I-35E and I-35W join again.

Dewing said Northlake’s officers were confiscating a lot of narcotics and large amounts of cash in I-35W traffic stops, and auctioning off the drug carrying vehicles.  But – his police officers routinely execute traffic patrol as singles in their vehicles.  And they cannot fully anticipate how “hostile” the driver and any passenger will be.  Unfortunately, backup officers are not always immediately nearby.  Mayor Dewing said he and his Chief had conferenced with Sheriff Parkey and his patrol staff and appreciated the backup the Sheriff’s Office was willing to provide Northlake officers on short notice.

Highland Village has earned its Deserved Reputation as a Very Safe Town
One of the more humorous town updates was by Highland Village Council Member Charlotte Wilcox.  She stood up, grinned, and said “Highland Village is almost perfect – we hardly have any crime!”  This accurate comment caused a lot of laughter in the room. However, Council Member Wilcox was being very realistic.  She said, “Our residents know our police officers personally.   And as a community, we are very ‘proactive’ to reduce any chance for criminal activity in our Town.”  For years, Highland Village has been recognized as one of the Safest Towns by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system for towns with populations over 10,000.

Chief Ed O’Bara confirmed Wilcox’s statement, when he said that our Town Council has funded three more police officers – and “we really don’t need them.”  That brought a lot of envious groans from the other Mayors and Police Chiefs attending, who would LOVE to have a few additional officers!  But Highland Village, in planning ahead, foresaw that the Town would go from 50 to 250 retail businesses in a relatively short period of time. And with the completion of FM 2499, more retail customers would access Highland Village from the northern part of Denton County.  These two events were estimated to increase from 50,000 to 250,000 the retail shopping visitors coming weekly to the Town’s commercial area. And a proportional increase of criminal incidents was expected, thus the funding for three additional police officers.

But the increase in criminal incidents did NOT happen.  Highland Village’s “Stop Thief” Program anticipated possible theft from vehicles parked in the retail areas.   The police officers put out 5,000 rear view mirror “Stop Thief” hangers.  Did those paper hangers stop the thefts?  Of course not.  But putting valuables in the trunk and out of sight and retail shoppers locking their car doors did!

Chief O’Bara very credibly explained his police philosophy.  He said during the years he spent with the Dallas Police force, the officers were always trying to solve crimes AFTER they had been committed.  In Highland Village, he wanted to prevent the crimes from ever happening in the first place! Chief O’Bara said “Our ability to consistently identify and address potential public safety problems and issues…before they occur has been a key factor in our ‘safety’ successes.  Another is actively enlisting the aid of our ‘community’ in the process of policing…designing specific programs to address specific challenges, and engaging in a continuous process of actively communicating our concerns and safety expectations to our residents through multiple communication models – E-Watch, Connect CTY, web-site, newsletters, etc.”

Thus the emphasis Highland Village police officers put on reminding residents to close their garage doors, to lock their cars even if they are parked in their driveway or in front of their homes, and to never leave valuables visible in their vehicles to temp a thief to break in and grab.  And Chief O’Bara’s philosophy has been very productive. He wants his officers “out of the car” and interacting with Highland Village residents.  Where one patrol vehicle used to drive 80 miles per shift, it now is driven only 40 miles per shift.  (A huge savings in the cost of gasoline per patrol vehicle!) But, there is minimal crime in Highland Village. And no street fatality accident since Chief O’Bara arrived 11 years ago.   Highland Village residents do appreciate the peace of mind that comes from living and raising their families in a very safe community.

The City of Oak Point has a uniquely cross-trained Department of Public Safety
Mike Shakleford is the Director of Public Safety for the City of Oak Point.  His department is unique in that every officer is cross-trained and certified in two or three of the “first responder” disciplines.  They are law enforcement officers, and/or emergency medical technicians, and/or firefighters.  This represents an incredible amount of emergency training and professional commitment by each individual officer.  And fortunately for each officer, they are paid according to the level of their expertise.  Oak Point does not have much turnover in their officer base.

*Denton County Mayors attending the Luncheon:
Matt Smith (Argyle),  Matthew Marchant (Carrollton),  Sue Tejml and Council Member Charlie Nicholas (Copper Canyon),  Paul Ruggiere (Corinth),  Mark Burroughs (Denton),  Gary Garrett (Mayor Pro Tem-Double Oak),  Melissa Northern (Flower Mound),  Charlotte Wilcox (Council Member-Highland Village), Tony Marino (Lake Dallas), Jim Wohletz (Oak Point),  Pamela Mueller and Carolyn Morris (Deputy Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member-Southlake),  Connie White (Trophy Club).

**Denton County Police Chiefs attending the Luncheon:
William Tackett (Argyle),  Dave Howell (Bartonville),  Rex Redden (Carrollton), Debra Walthall (Corinth),  Lee Howell (Denton) , Derrick Watson and Lt. Ruben Rivas (Double Oak),  Kenneth Brooker (Flower Mound),  Ed O’Bara and Asst. Chief Mark Stewart (Highland Village),  Nick Ristagno (Lake Dallas), Russ Kerbow (Lewisville), Waylan Rhodes (Little Elm),  Michael Shackleford (Oak Point),  Scott Kniffen (Trophy Club)

Mayors Luncheon catered by Cristina’s Mexican Restaurant
Our thanks to Cristina’s Mexican Restaurant for again catering a luncheon to Copper Canyon’s Town Hall. The food is always delicious, delivered “hot” to our doorstep, and reasonably priced. (Cristina’s is located in Flower Mound on the corner of FM 1171 and Shiloh Road – (817) 430-3669.)

And a sincere Thank You to our Copper Canyon Hostesses who volunteered their time to not only serve the luncheon – but cheerfully clean up afterwards:  Debbie Baumann, Kaye Hill, Pris Johnson, Tamara Cuthrell – and a special Thanks to my husband Emil Tejml, who
timely found a “plumber’s friend” to unclog the kitchen sink at Town Hall that chose to NOT Drain right in the middle of the luncheon!

Copper Canyon’s Town Staff is a wonderful support for any Town Project
Town Administrator Donna Welsh is a wonderful organizer for all Town events, including the annual Town Clean Up Day, the Santa Party for Copper Canyon Kids every December, the Town’s 35th Birthday Party, any Town Hall Meetings on special issues, the Pipeline Luncheon celebrating the “Best Practices”, and now the Mayors Luncheon featuring “2012 Crime Challenges for Denton County.”   She arranges for the luncheon menu or any refreshments, sets up the Council Chambers to accommodate however many guests we expect, works with our Deputies to expedite parking (which is always in short supply for any event at Town Hall), and helps me get any invitations emailed timely and accurately to recipients.

Equally important are the cheerful contributions from our Town Secretary Sheila Morales, who is also a Copper Canyon resident, and our Municipal Court Clerk Carol McLeod.  Donna, Sheila and Carol work together as a team, backing each other up wherever needed.  They help me get the invitations out, help Donna set up the tables and refreshment serving area, and together we all always help clean up the Council Chambers afterward.  And Carol deserves extra thanks, because she is a natural “plant lover”.  She always insures that the house plants inside Town Hall are healthy and well cared for – and the flowers in pots in front of Town Hall are adequately watered and groomed.  Thank you, Carol, for giving our Town Hall the warm, welcoming look of a home!

It is always a pleasure to be at Town Hall, because the atmosphere of friendliness and mutual cooperation between the three ladies is so tangible.  And they go out of their way to welcome and be helpful to any Copper Canyon resident, or guest, or municipal court traffic citation recipient (the latter not always being in the best of moods – understandably.  Traffic tickets are not only expensive, but they are documented on your driving record for vehicle insurance purposes – an ongoing increased expense. )

Town Bakers prepared a wonderful Smorgasbord of Desserts for our guests!
And, as always, our Town bakers prepared a wonderful smorgasbord of desserts for our guests!  (Sheriff Parkey kidded me and said the great turnout for the Mayors Crime Luncheon was strictly due to Copper Canyon’s reputation for having fantastic home baked desserts!  Look over the following list and decide for yourself!)

Mary Alexander (Coconut Pie, Lemon Chess Pie, and Raisin Pie), Debbie Baumann (Peach Cobbler), Pam Brothers (Chocolate Chip Cookies and Oatmeal Cookies), Tamara Cuthrell (not one but two Chocolate Pecan Pies), Pris Johnson (Sugarless Banana Pudding – a “return request” by prior guests to Town Hall luncheons!), Marla Kelley (Reese’s Cup Cookies), Jennifer Ron (Lemon Cookies and S’More Cookies), Dale Svatik (Pumpkin Crunch Cake and Slovak Cookies – the latter was Chief Deputy Blaise Mikulewitz’s favorite!), and Pam Warren (Brownies) – and a very special Thanks to Flower Mound’s Mayor Melissa Northern for her Tres Leches Cake – which Highland Village Police Chief Ed O’Bara said was his very  FAVORITE dessert!  Maybe “similar dessert tastes” is a new means of “hands across the roads” community cooperation?


Written by Sue Tejml, Mayor of Copper Canyon

 

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