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Lantana officials discuss starting police department

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Lantana’s two Fresh Water Supply District (FWSD) boards recently heard a pitch from Denton County Precinct 1 Deputy Constable Drew Paschall on forming a police department for the master-planned community.

Paschall, who works for Constable Jesse Flores, proposed starting out with six officers and two squad cars at a cost of about $563,000 for the first year, with an annual budget of $499,681 in subsequent years. Flores was defeated in the March Republican Primary by former Deputy Constable Johnny Hammons and his term in office will end on Dec. 31.

“What has happened in a nutshell is there’s a strain on the law enforcement community in Lantana in the sense of it relying on other agencies to come in to help support the Sheriff,” said Paschall.

He drew comparisons to the neighboring towns of Bartonville and Double Oak, which both have police departments with similar staffing and budgets, and yet have a fraction of Lantana’s population. The 2012 population estimates show Bartonville at 1,621 residents and Double Oak at 2,964. Lantana’s current estimated population is 9,350.

Double Oak Police Chief Derrick Watson was present at the March 18 FWSD board meeting after recently publicly expressing his concerns about the safety of his officers in Lantana when responding to domestic disturbances.

“One third of our budget was going towards answering calls outside of Double Oak,” explained Watson. “The bottom line is this…you have a very population dense community here with very finite human resources.”

The presentation was arranged by FWSD #6 board member Bob Baird, who said that public safety has become a hot topic with his neighbors.

“I got a call from Jessie (Flores) and Drew (Paschall) and they said, “Have you guys thought about starting your own police department out there?”

The issue of where the county’s portion of Lantana’s tax dollars were going was a reoccurring theme during the meeting.

“We certainly contribute millions of dollars into the county coffers,” said Baird. “I think Denton County needs to make a review of their policing activities a priority item to look at increasing the number of officers out here.”

Denton County Sheriff Will Travis addressed the crowd and stated that he has 58 deputies on staff with 8 to 10 on duty per shift patrolling 990 square miles of Denton County. He said that he is asking Commissioners Court for 10 more deputies in the upcoming annual budget.

“We do the very best we can with what we have,” said Travis. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Travis said that he would be happy to help the FWSD’s with whatever decision they make. However, he pointed out that when there is a burglary in Lantana his office would still be in charge of investigating it even if Lantana had a police department. His department would also still answer SWAT calls as well as performing traffic duties since the county is the only authority that can enforce local traffic laws in a FWSD.

Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads assured the boards that he would push for more resources for Travis.

“One thing we can look at is to increase the general patrols across the county and make smaller beats so Lantana would have more of a focus,” said Eads. “We are starting our budget season and we can try to build a coalition to support smaller patrol areas.”

There is a question of whether Lantana can legally have its own police department. Historically, law enforcement by FWSD’s has been accomplished by interlocal agreements on a contractual basis with the sheriff’s department or local municipalities, according to Clay Crawford, Lantana’s legal counsel.

“The Attorney General has recognized in opinion after opinion that districts can contract for services, and historically throughout the state the structure is they contract with the sheriff for extra service by hiring dedicated deputies,” said Crawford.

As far as footing the bill, the FWSD is limited in where it can access funds for added protection, said Crawford.

“There’s nothing in the state constitution that gives us the authority to levy a tax for general law enforcement services. We would have to use our net water and sewer revenue to fund it.”

FWSD #7 board member Andrew Kloser said that the decision would ultimately come down to dollars and cents.

“It’s not an easy decision because this means you will have to open up your wallet even more if we do anything,” said Kloser. “It means an assessment on your water bill or a special assessment of some sort.”

The boards voted to kick the issue to the FWSD Safety Committee with input from Sheriff Travis and Commissioner Eads and bring back a recommendation by the next joint meeting in May or June.

Board members thanked Travis and Eads for their time and attention to the matter and expressed appreciation for the work they are doing.

“We think that the Sheriff’s Department is doing a great job,” said District #6 board member Donna Robichaux. “We are just trying to look ahead to the future and the growth. We need to come up with a stronger plan for the future.”

 

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