Denton County swore in its new sheriff on January 1. Except for his very blue eyes, 49-year-old Will Travis blends in with any local crowd.
His sturdy-looking torso and slightly-taller-than-average height suggest he might have tossed a few hay bales and tended livestock on a local farm. A sober person of questionable motives might entertain second thoughts about a confrontation with Sheriff Travis.
Of his possible agricultural rearing Travis said, “My dad was a district judge in Jackson, Mississippi where I was born and spent my youth.
“The nature of a Mississippi District Judge’s job meant police officers came to the house for Dad’s signature at odd times, so I had frequent personal contact with law enforcement as I grew up,” Travis said with evident positive emotion.
Travis graduated from the University of Mississippi with a major in Public Administration–the academic title given to the study of law enforcement–and a minor in chemistry that taught him to pay attention to details.
“I knew I wanted to work on a big police force so after graduation I applied to a number of cities,” Travis said.
The Dallas Police Department first asked him to attend its Police Academy. He happily accepted the offer then spent about five years doing patrol work, handling auto thefts, and helping secure downtown Dallas’ nightlife area, the West End.
“Things used to be pretty wild down there,” he said about his memories of that period in his career.
That first law enforcement job started in the mid-1980s, and Travis has made Texas his home ever since. Like many of his fellow police officers, he at that time supplemented his income by serving as a military reservist.
“A number of us from Dallas P.D. joined the Coast Guard, and we worked out of Houston piloting and navigating boats,” he said.
The Coast Guard name for that occupation is a Boatswain Mate.
“The name has a different meaning in the navy,” he pointed out.
A naval Boatswain is the officer in charge of the deck crew, the rigging, anchors, and cables.
Eight years later the Coast Guard cut back its Houston operation, and the Boatswain Mates from Dallas P.D. transferred into the Air Force where they served as Security Police.
The Sheriff met and married a Secret Service employee, and thereafter transferred to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency where he worked for a time as a Special Agent.
He gave up law enforcement in 2000, and joined a venture capital group at the invitation of college friends involved in the enterprise. He acquired and rents out the Diamond T Arena in Denton.
“We host rodeo and related events 50 weeks a year,” he said. A look of excitement and pride spread over his face. “And, no, I don’t own a pair of cowboy boots,” he laughed, “I like my regular shoes!”
Civilian life never quite replaced the Sheriff’s love for police work. He ran against former Sheriff Lucas Weldon for three short weeks a few years back, but gave up the election project because of pressing family matters.
“Recently my business partners started to retire,” he said, “As business wound down the time felt right for another Sheriff’s race.”
Travis organized a second campaign then beat incumbent Sheriff Benny Parkey in the Republican Primary. No Democrat opposed him in the November general election.
“Texas hosts three United States Ports of Entry,” he said, “Drug cartels and smugglers of human cargo spirit their products into the country through Texas. They transport drugs and people,” his voice developed a steel edge, “mainly children–right up I-35 through Denton County. Those guys have motel way-stations along the freeways. They may stuff 20 children in a motel room until the victims can be moved along to their destinations.”
Sheriff Travis wants his department to devote more resources to highway interdiction of drug and human traffic.
“On the highways cartel deliverymen (and women) commit minor traffic violations like everyone else, but once they attract police attention they make odd errors that give away their business,” he said.
The illegal substance business affects Denton County’s peace and quiet.
“Nearly every year some student dies in one of our schools from a drug overdose. Maybe 5 percent of the student body gets snagged in illegal drug use, but that is 5 percent too many children, and everyone associated with the school is negatively impacted.”
The Sheriff’s Department can do more than intervene after the tragic fact, said Travis, the father of a 15-year-old. He has definite ideas, “But of course I don’t want to publicize our plans.” The element of surprise is important in the confrontation with wrong-doing.
Grief stricken parents of overdose victims want more preventive policing in county schools. Every life matters.
“We need to protect everyone at school,” Travis said.
One problem faced by Denton County’s outgoing and incoming sheriffs is a shortage of deputies to cover the 990 square miles of their jurisdiction. Travis has heard complaints about long response times to calls from unincorporated areas like Lantana.
“Right now deputies serving Lantana have to drive from Ponder,” he said with a grimace, “I want to move their base midway between Ponder and Lantana. That will help the situation a lot.”
But changing the deputy base does not, he pointed out, solve the department’s patrol personnel shortfall.
“We have openings for more officers. We’re interested in military veterans as well as civilian applicants,” Travis said, “and we have funds to pay for training.”
The Sheriff’s Department employs 586 people, “But we have 602 positions,” he said.
He pointed out the Sheriff’s Department may call on the Highway Patrol and other state law enforcement agencies to provide personnel to assist in county Fresh Water Districts.
“We have state resources we need to use more,” Travis said.
His new job requires good administrative and delegating skills, “The Sheriff hires his own team, and department personnel serve at his invitation.”
Morale is often a casualty after a new sheriff’s election. The personnel situation resembles what happens after a private company buy out: some employees remain and others depart for various reasons.
“I am bringing three talented new law enforcement administrators into the department with me,” Travis said, “I am very interested in posting department openings internally. I’d like to promote from within as much as possible. Productive employees need to feel they have a chance to improve their professional life outlook after devoting time and service to the Sheriff’s Department.”
Travis distinguished himself as the first Denton County Sheriff who completed the state training for Jail Certification.
Firsts interest Travis, “I’m the first sheriff with a college diploma. I want to be the first to actually wear a uniform and do patrols.”
He has received the T.C.L.O.S., the training and certification for law enforcement standards in the State of Texas. He renewed his Peace Officer certification, and he says he will wear a badge.
Sheriff Travis said “community policing” procedures exponentially increase patrol effectiveness.
“For example,” he said, “if you’re out in the yard, a patrolling officer might pull up to your curb, get out, introduce himself, chat then leave you with his business card and contact phone number. Officer and citizen rapport is a powerful law enforcement multiplier.”
Travis urges Denton County citizens to practice common sense crime prevention tactics.