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Lantana officials nix police department proposal

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Lantana’s two fresh water supply district (FWSD) boards put the kibosh on forming a dedicated police department for the master-planned community.

Members of the FWSD Public Safety Committee met in April to discuss the pros and cons of such an arrangement after hearing a proposal in March from Denton County Precinct 1 Deputy Constable Drew Paschall on starting a police department. Estimated costs came in at around a half-million dollars per year.

The drawbacks included finding a suitable funding source and the inability of the new department to enforce all of Lantana’s traffic laws due to recent state legislation addressing traffic enforcement in FWSD’s.

Committee members instead decided to explore the possibility of either contracting with the sheriff’s department for dedicated patrols or entering into an agreement with a neighboring town’s police department if a needs analysis calls for more coverage.

Board members Bob Baird and Jim Lieber are talking to area police departments to gauge interest in providing service to Lantana on contractual basis. Baird reported that Double Oak and Argyle might be interested in exploring the partnership.

However, the Public Safety Committee discussed the advantages of working with the Sheriff’s Department if the need is warranted.

“The benefit of contracting with the sheriff’s office is that if someone’s home gets broken into we don’t have to pull that officer off the street to investigate the crime. The sheriff can send a detective out while the patrol is still on the street,” said Lantana General Manger, Kevin Mercer.

“If you catch the fish you clean the fish,” added Denton County Sheriff Will Travis.

Travis said that his office would still be in charge of investigating crimes in Lantana even if the community had its own police department or contracted with one. The sheriff’s department would also still answer SWAT calls as well as perform traffic duties, since the county is the only authority that can enforce local traffic laws in a FWSD.

When asked about the concern of the hired deputy leaving Lantana in the middle of a shift when something happens outside of the community, Travis said, “Our deputy is not just going to wander off when he’s under contract unless there are extraordinary circumstances where he needs to assist other officers.”  He added that neighboring police departments will still back up the sheriff’s office.

The Sheriff’s Department has agreements in place to provide dedicated deputies to several Denton County fresh water districts and towns, including Copper Canyon, Providence Village and Paloma Creek.

Before any decision is made to hire a deputy or contract with a local police department, Travis, working with Mercer, is preparing a study to determine the current and future level of staffing he feels is needed in Lantana.

“The question we need to ask is, have we reached the point to where we have an issue? We have to have some grounds on necessity before we walk in and start asking for money from residents,” said Jerry Goodale, president of Denton County Development District #4.

Travis and his staff agreed to put together data that shows the amount of serious offenses and the calls of service by time and day to see where they need to have more concentration of patrols, along with anticipating what Lantana will need as the community grows.

“The sheriff is going to take a look at Lantana and say, ‘This is what I think from a professional law enforcement point of view that the staffing should be for Lantana.’ The second thing is he will say is, ‘This is what I’m able to provide and this is what I’ve asked the county for.’ If there’s a difference between what an effective level is and what he is able to man, then we will know what that difference is,” explained FWSD #6 board member Bob Baird.

Travis recently submitted his annual budget to the county for the 2015 fiscal year. He said that he is asking County Commissioners for 10 more deputies.

Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads assured board members that he would push for more resources for Travis.

The two FWSD boards are expected to review the data at their June joint meeting.

“We’ve gone down some interesting roads over the years trying to determine the need for extra police and I don’t think we’ve ever actually asked the sheriff who is out here every day and knows what is really going on,” said FWSD #6 board member Max Miller.

 

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