It’s been a busy six months since Cleburne Police Chief Robert Severance was hired at the end of December, a time of change and unexpected surprises.
“The tornadoes were a little bit unexpected,” Severance said. “It’s kind of ironic, the Times-Review did an article where I talked to the Lions Club a couple of weeks before that where I talked about safety preparedness, including the possibility of tornadoes in Cleburne. Since then, some of the folks here are like, ‘Well, don’t talk about anything else that might happen.’
“But I was impressed by how everyone reached out and worked together on that, and the help from outside the city. We had over 120 law enforcement officers from maybe 16 different agencies who came to assist.”
Severance — who was hired in November and began Dec. 31 — replaced former CPD Chief Terry Powell, who retired last year after 32 years with the department.
Cleburne City Manager Rick Holden, with the assistance of an ad hoc interviewing committee, chose Severance from a pool of more than 40 applicants.
“He meets very dynamically the needs of our department in the future,” Holden said shortly after the city council ratified Severance’s employment. “I think [fellow CPD officers and the community] are going to be very excited to see some opportunities about personal development and opportunities to help move this department in a direction that’s probably unheralded.”
Severance previously served as a lieutenant and Community Services Division commander, in addition to other positions, for 22 years with the Grand Prairie Police Department. He also won appointment last year to the 251st Session of the FBI’s National Academy, a highly selective honor whereby officers are nominated to attend. Severance earned a degree in criminal justice and communication from Dallas Baptist University and is working toward a Master of Science degree from Amberton University.
Severance joked that his son helped him find his new job.
“It’s kind of funny how I heard about the position being open,” Severance said late last year. “My son started this year as a freshman at [Southwestern Adventist University] so I was doing some research of the area and, about that same time, heard that Chief Powell was about to retire.”
Although he grew up in Grand Prairie, Severance’s roots in Cleburne and Johnson County run deep. He spent a lot of time in his younger days running around the family’s property with his cousins. His mother and uncle grew up in Cleburne and his great-great-grandfather, Samuel Lee Davidson, purchased land on the west side of town in 1902 near where Nolan River Road now runs. Severance’s grandparents, Samuel and Julia Waldrip, later donated a portion of that land for the site of Cleburne Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Severance’s uncle, David Waldrip, founded David’s Supermarkets, a company headquartered in Grandview. On a sadder note, his great-grandmother, Essie Waldrip, died in 1947 after being struck by a car when crossing U.S. 67 to get her mail.
“Every day I look at the old courthouse and think, ‘Wow, some of my family members in the past probably saw that when it was under construction.’”
Severance recently discovered that his family goes ever further back in Cleburne.
“I thought [Samuel Lee Davidson] was the first one here because I remember my mom talking about him,” Severance said. “But, at the Layland Museum, I was looking through the ‘History of Johnson County Texas,’ and it lists my great-great-great-grandfather Samuel Julius Davidson was here in 1872.”
Severance said he’s excited to be coming on board at this juncture of Cleburne’s history, a sentiment shared by other city leaders. With Texas 121, a toll road linking Fort Worth and Cleburne, scheduled to open next year, Cleburne and Johnson County leaders are predicting an explosion of population and economic development growth in the coming years.
“With 121 coming there’s no question that the face of our community is going to change,” Holden said. “It’s going to change whether we want it to or not. But we need input to help guide that change.”
Projections offered during a recent city comprehensive plan workshop show Cleburne’s 30,000 population increasing to 51,000 in 10 years, 79,000 in 20 years and 97,000 in 25 years.
The challenge, Holden and others say, is to prepare for that growth ahead of time. Numerous city projects from charter and city code reviews and updates to citywide and downtown planning studies have completed or remain underway to address those challenges — challenges that will definitely affect CPD going forward.
“Cleburne is a safe place to live,” Severance said. “Of course you have crime in any community and we have the challenge, as our community grows and changes, that we certainly want to make sure our police department continues to deliver a high level of service so we can keep up with that pace.”
Severance, working with fellow officers has already instituted a number of changes and programs in a relatively short period of time, and plans more to come.
“I know change is difficult for people,” Severance said. “And it’s been a lot of change for me, too. I spent 22 years with another agency and so I’m still getting to know 52 new officers and about 20 non-sworn employees with the department.”
A partial list of programs and changes instituted or in the works included Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS, which, in a nutshell, helps police better target areas of crime and traffic accidents in real time allowing for better allocation of police resources by targeting such areas and maintaining a high visibility officer presence.
Severance also recently partnered CPD with Victim Relief Ministries, a faith-based organization that works with crime victims and assist rescue workers, and victims, during times of disaster.
“As you saw they came out after [Cleburne’s May 15] tornadoes and were very helpful ministering to peoples’ needs and helping the community,” Severance said. “One of the projects [CPD Deputy Chief Danny Rogers] is working on is organizing meeting with clergy in our community so we can keep them informed on issues that may be important to their congregations and open lines of communication.
“There’s several ways that may be beneficial. For one, if we have burglaries or other things affecting churches, then we can put that information out so they’re aware. The other thing being if a member of their congregation becomes the victim of a crime, or involved in a crash or something like that, it gives us the ability to reach out and have that connection to get in touch with somebody and help them.”
Other changes involve reorganization and structural changes to the department ranging from improving communications and safety measures to optimizing allocation of officer talents and resources.
A reserve officer program implements soon. The volunteer program supplements the department’s regular force, on an as needed basis, with law enforcement officers who are retired or work elsewhere.
“That program’s not in place yet,” Severance said. “But the tornado kind of illustrated that. Even though we had a disaster to respond to, for the rest of the city we still had to maintain our same levels of service day to day. So [the reserve program] in the future will be able to supplement our regular force as needed for things like disaster situations, like a tornado, and also things like parades, community events or festivals.”
Severance said he and Rogers are also working toward organizing regular intelligence meetings with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and area police departments.
“To talk about any common issues or patterns that affect us all and move beyond city and county boundaries,” Severance said.
Severance also hopes to revive the Explorer Program, a program for students to work with police departments and learn about law enforcement. The program remains near and dear to Severance’s heart. He joined the Grand Prairie Police Department’s Explorer Program in 1986 when he was 16.
Severance also hopes to enlarge National Night Out, an annual event promoting police and community partnerships.
“We’re looking forward to celebrating that,” Severance said. “It’s a good opportunity to raise public awareness about preventing crime and getting officers out there to meet the community. It really takes community involvement to effectively deter crime.”
So far, so good
Severance said he enjoys getting out in the community to meet people. He attends community events more often than not.
“I personally feel it’s important to establish relationships and be visible in the community,” Severance said. “I think we have a strong community. Everybody’s eager and willing to pitch in. I’m also really happy with [CPD]. We have of the best officers and employees in the state who care about the community and the work they do.”
It’s a full-time job.
“It’s a full, full calender,” Severance said. “A slow week is when I have maybe 15 appointments. I wish I had a little more time to ride in a patrol car and things like that, but it’s not going to get slower.”