It was the mid-1970s and the population of Lewisville was about 15,000. A young man named Russ Kerbow finished high school and started working at grocery stores in the area. Soon, he became a manager with the Southland Corporation, owner of the 7-Eleven convenience store franchise.
Some of the guys he went to school with had joined the Lewisville Police Department and Russ would talk to them when they came in to shop at the store. They asked if he’d be interested in joining the police reserve unit.
“I think many young men, right out of high school, have no idea what they want to do career-wise,” he said. “I knew I probably didn’t want to stay in the grocery business, so I joined the reserves and got an education about working with the community. It’s an unpaid position (similar to the auxiliary) in which you don’t have authority unless you’re riding with an officer. Our role was to attend parades, hold traffic positions, or ride with officers on a shift, like a backup.”
In 1978, after about six months with the reserves, Kerbow joined the Lewisville PD and began a career in law-enforcement. Now, 36 years later, he’s been the Chief of Police for the past seven years. During a recent visit to my home, Chief Kerbow talked about the 75th anniversary of the city’s PD (August 9) and some of its history.
“The requirements back then were that you had to be at least 18 and go through a background check to assure a clean record. Except for the blue color on the badge we didn’t look much different from the regular officers. Today Lewisville doesn’t have a reserve.” However, residents wanting a volunteer experience can attend the annual Citizens Police Academy in the fall, and afterward are used in a variety of support roles.
There are 154 officers in the LPD, of which 66 are patrol officers, not counting the 10-member traffic unit, the patrol supervisors, detectives, special operations unit personnel and school resource officers. Patrol officers work 12-hour shifts, which allow for three days off each week. All recruits attend four months of training, which is performed at regional academies. Training consists of academic, physical and firearms training, and driving skills. A recruit can’t have any misdemeanors within the last five years, no felonies at all, and cannot have a family violence conviction on their record. “Once they get through the academy we get them back into the department and swear them in,” Kerbow said. The chief talked about the need for good relations between the police and the community they serve.
“The way the community interacts with the police department is critical. We know that crime occurs and goes unreported. We know senior citizens get preyed upon and in some cases are too embarrassed to file a report. There’s much that goes on that applies to reporting, so we think that the more comfortable a community is in their relationship with their police, the more likely they are to report crime. We have neighborhood resource officers whose role is to get involved with local residents and help develop crime watch programs. It’s important to keep minor issues from becoming major ones. I vividly remember an incident back in the 90’s when one guy complained about his neighbor’s tree, dropping pine needles in his yard. One day we got a call that there was someone on the porch with a rifle. Needless to say, that was a small issue that became a large one because it wasn’t caught earlier.”
I asked about the large Latino population in the city and how it affects communication. “The language barrier is definitely a challenge and we are always looking to hire bi-lingual officers. Most officers who speak Spanish are of Latino descent, but not all of them. Those who are bi-lingual get paid more money for their special skills,” Kerbow said. How are undocumented immigrants handled? “We participate in the federal Secure Community Program which is operated by the folks in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). So, when we book someone in jail, in addition to running their prints, we ask a series of questions, such as, where are you from and where were you born. If they say anything but the United States, we run them through a database just to let our people know that here is someone from Central America, for example, and we ask if there’s any desire to look at them for anything. The amount of people that ICE has any real interest in is pretty small. They are looking for violent criminals that are here illegally.”
The most prevalent crimes in Lewisville involve property. “Vehicle burglaries and vehicle thefts are big,” Kerbow said. “Believe it or not, some people still don’t lock their cars and they leave items like laptops in full view,” he added, shaking his head. “The city has many places to shop and dine, providing targets of opportunity for thieves, when people are too casual about securing their vehicles.” With the baby-boomer generation retiring in large numbers, the chief said it may reflect a decrease in crime because older people generally don’t stay out late (when most crimes are committed) and they have learned to be careful about their surroundings.
The chief’s primary responsibility is establishing policy and administering the budget, which is currently at $20 million annually. A typical day for the chief involves emails, meetings, public events and other forms of communication. He feels that police chiefs should also be thoroughly involved in the communities they serve. Along with several other organizations, Kerbow is part of the Heroes of Denton County Fund, which is basically for the families of police and firefighter survivors who have suffered serious injuries. He attends a monthly lunch at a hotel in Dallas for police chiefs in cities with more than 100,000 population (Lewisville is at about 107,000, including Castle Hills). Very few officers start at the bottom and rise to police chief status. Russ Kerbow is too modest to toot his own horn, so, I’ll just say that his professionalism is evident in his knowledge of the job, his demeanor and his impressive people skills. It’s no surprise to me that he’s the top cop.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.