From deputy uniforms to public outreach it’s been a busy, and hands on, three and a half years for Johnson County Sheriff Adam King and staff.
King discussed his soon-to-conclude first term during Friday’s monthly breakfast of Pinnacle Club 50.
King seeks re-election in November unopposed.
“If I remember to vote for myself I’m going to get four more years,” King said.
Much has been accomplished, King said. More is in the pipeline.
“So I just wanted to take this opportunity to update you all on what we’ve been doing at the sheriff’s office,” King said. “I say we because there’s nothing there I’ve done myself. It’s been a team effort, and not just the sheriff’s office but the commissioners court as well.”
Deputy uniforms were among the first issues King tackled. For reasons indiscernible several variations previously existed.
“They had so many different uniforms that they’d show up to a scene and you weren’t sure who was who or what agency they were with,” King said. “I went to a scene one time and there were four different uniforms being worn by Johnson County deputies.
“I had the deputies vote on it, said, ‘Pick a uniform,’ and they picked blues.”
Looming larger in the big picture, King’s intent to broaden public outreach and increase what he refers to as the citizens’ ownership of their sheriff’s office.
“We wanted to open our doors and our building and get citizen interaction,” King said. “We wanted to get away from the fortress mentality of having a secured facility where nobody knows what’s going on in there. We wanted people to see what’s happening
“We wanted people to look at what we are doing and why we are doing it. I also wanted them in there to make sure we’re doing it to their standards.”
That’s taken several forms over the past few years including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Police Academy.
“When they go through the academy they learn basically everything we learn in our regular police academy, just an abbreviated version. They don’t leave with any license to go out and perform law enforcement or anything like that. But what they do leave with is a good idea of what we do an why.”
Participants learn all functions of the sheriff’s office from touring the jail to participating alongside officers in community oriented events.
“We set up mock traffic stops where they put on a duty belt, body armor and they go up, actually walk up to a car and do a traffic stop,” King said. “It’s very eye opening for them because they become aware of the dangers officers face every time they get out of their car.”
King subsequently realized the importance of reaching out to younger people.
“To make a good impression on them and get away from the stigma that’s being put out on the news today,” King said. “We wanted to let them know who we really are and what we’re really about.”
Which led to JCSO’s pilot cadet program at Burleson Centennial High School.
“There’s a big push right now in our public schools for vocational training so the timing was perfect,” King said. “They had the same vision as we did and the program was up and running in a few months.”
The program immerses students into a more extensive participatory learning experience than the citizens academy.
“They go do actual UIL competitions with other schools doing police-related stuff like crime scene investigations, police photography and a lot of things like that,” King said.
Students also pitch in to help with various JCSO tasks. Students served as greeters and cooked several hundred hot dogs during last year’s National Night Out, for instance.
The hope is to recruit at least some of those students down the line, King said.
The sheriff’s office in fact recently hired their first cadet.
“He’s only 18 but, because of his training, has a higher level of training and maturity than you might expect from the typical 18 year old,” King said.
The cadet works dispatch for now but plans to enter the police academy when he turns 20.
“Dispatch is hard,” King said. “It’s harder than being an officer. It’s not more dangerous but it is harder, more stressful. If you can make it in there you’re going to do wonderful out on the street as an officer.”
The department also instituted a voluntary program helpful to residents with disabilities. The program, which is free, allows residents to detail medical or physical issues they have such as deafness, PTSD etc. That information is then connected to the license plate of the resident.
“If someone’s deaf, for instance, and an officer turns on his siren, well, they don’t know their back there so they’re just driving but the officer thinks they’re ignoring him,” King said. “This way the officer is going to have that information beforehand to know what’s going on. And this is for all the agencies the sheriff’s office dispatches through, which, I think, Rio Vista is the only one that doesn’t.”
Community outreach matters, King said, because of incidents of police and resident mistrust and at times clashes in places like Ferguson, Missouri and other cities in recent years.
“The main reason wasn’t so much what the police did in that moment in time per se,” King said. “It was because they got disconnected over a long period of time from the community. The community did not feel they had ownership of their police department anymore and it created an environment where haters could come into their community and stir up that kind of nonsense.
“So I wanted to make sure we’re connected to our citizens.”
Deputy Bill Hardin functions as one of JCSO’s best assets in that regard, King said.
“Bill, who is 97, has been a police officer for over 74 years,” King said. “He has two world records, oldest police officer that we know of and longest serving officer that we know of. He still comes in and we love it. He interacts with citizens and kids and loves it. We take him to programs and events. The Texas Rangers had a Bill Hardin day at Rangers Stadium.”
King expects fellow officers to do their part as well.
“I encourage the deputies to get out of their cars when they’re not responding to calls,” King said. “Eat lunch at a school, visit with kids on a playground. Someone’s playing football, get out and throw a few passes. Some have really taken to that and it’s been well received by the community.
“One girl waved at a deputy every time he passed by. So one day just stopped and hung out with her a little bit. Her mom was so impressed that she called the news and they came out and did a story.”
Out of respect for veterans, King upgraded JCSO’s color guard.
On the safety side, the sheriff’s office instituted a child safety seat program, which provides seats for those unable to afford them and teaches parents how to properly use them.
Thanks to commissioners court support each patrol car now carries an automated external defibrillator and a patrol rifle. Deputies have also been trained in first aid and CPR. A robot, acquired through a grant, and the development of a SWAT team have made life safer for officers, King said, adding that officers who volunteer to train and become part of the SWAT team do so at no extra pay.
King cited improvements to the department’s crime lab in recent years and joked that Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance is likely still mad at JCSO for stealing former Cleburne crime scene analyst Kim Burrus away from Severance’s department.
“The Cleburne Police Department spent all that money training her and we get the benefit,” King said.
King also discussed JCSO’s clergy response team, a group of local pastors who volunteer to help both officers in the field and victims of crime or tragic circumstances.
In the works are plans to roll out GED and vocational training programs for inmates.
“Those guys will sometimes spend years doing nothing but watching TV,” King said. “I would like to get some of these people educated so that when they get out they can hopefully get a real job and not come back.”
Revenues from the jail commissary could fund such programs, King said, adding that he hopes to partner with Hill College on such projects.
King said he also hopes to develop an JCSO emergency response team consisting of citizens police academy graduates.
One such graduate, Scott Zerger, who King jokingly called a California refugee, participated in such a team in the Golden State assisting California officers in times of wildfires, earthquakes and other needs.
Pinnacle Bank Vice President Guy James praised King’s commitment.
“You bring character, faith and leadership to you law enforcement philosophy,” James said.
Pinnacle Club 50 consists of area officials and business and community leaders who gather each month to hear from speakers and discuss community affairs.