WAXAHACHIE — Over the last three weeks, Ellis County Sheriff Chuck Edge has watched, listened and assessed the department in which he has recently been given the keys.
After evaluating the needs of the organization, seeing where it is lacking and looking at what improvement can be made so residents can receive the best service possible, Edge said he has found an agency in need of a slight tune up.
Edge was appointed by the Ellis County Commissioners Court to fill the 21 months remaining of a two-year term vacated by former Sheriff Johnny Brown who resigned from office. Ellis County Judge Carol Bush officially swore Edge in as sheriff on April 25.
Shortly after taking office, Edge made three staffing changes, which raised some concerns with residents. One of those changes was the installation of new chief deputy Mitch Bartley, who was sworn-in on Monday and had previously served with Edge at the Waxahachie Police Department.
One of those residents concerned with the staffing changes penned a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily Light. The letter claimed Bush, not Edge, had dismissed as many as six deputies.
“Judge [Bush] didn’t release anybody from the Sheriff’s Office. Only the sheriff can do that. There were some personal changes. Obviously, those were to be expected. Generally, when a sheriff comes in, they are allowed to bring their own chief deputy that has the same mindset and the same goals and the same vision. It just makes it a more compatible environment,” Edge assured. “Regardless, there weren’t six. There were only three. It was not widespread sweeping changes in personnel. Most everything was running good. The guys and gals here want to work. They have been doing a good job, so why would somebody come in and totally clean house?”
Edge explained that he plans to work to provide the resources and tools for his deputies, investigators, detention officers, command staff and civilian personnel to bring out their very best. In turn, this will help the agency gain respect and become a respected office.
WORKING TOWARD RECOGNITION
One of Edge’s first steps is to have the sheriff’s office go through the Texas Police Chiefs Association Recognition Program, which is a voluntary process. When Edge was with the Waxahachie Police Chief, he led the agency through the process to become recognized and succeeded in doing so.
“An agency that has been awarded ‘recognized’ status has undertaken a careful internal review of its policies, procedures, equipment, facilities, and operations. Most agencies find that some adjustment and revisions of their policies and procedures may be necessary. The agency then submits proof of their compliance with the standards to independent assessors,” states the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s website. “After an independent review of their written documents and proofs, a team of assessors is sent to the agency to review their operations and facilities, and to interview the Department’s staff. A final report outlining the findings is sent to the Recognition Committee. The Committee reviews the findings and votes whether or not to award ‘recognized’ status.”
Edge explained that this program was very successful at the police department and, by going through this program, it helps to give personnel at the agency a shared vision.
In contributing to shaping that vision of service, Edge has a new motto for the sheriff’s office — Ethics, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity and Service, or "ELLIS" for short.
Edge explained that these makeup are the core values of law enforcement profession and wants to instill them in those who work at the sheriff’s office. This so the agency not only takes a leadership role in the community and to gain the public trust but it is also for the office’s personnel to become leaders as well. It also encourages the deputies and office staff to become involved in community organizations that are important to them, he added.
DRESSING THE PART, ADDRESSING THE STAFF
“There have been some minor but quick changes, and now we have kind of a list. Budget season is also right now, too. It is a good thing because, as we want to make these changes, we are also preparing the budget. So we can address it now and if the budget passes it will make some of the things we want to do already be funded and already be set up,” Edge said. “Easy, quick things that we have done are things like the bailiffs in the courthouse are no longer wearing their uniforms as a regular patrol deputy would. They are in a suit and tie. There have been some uniform changes as far as investigators, such as long sleeved shirts and ties. Those are minor and are not major changes.”
One of the bigger changes Edge is eyeing is the installation of a property room custodian. Without a full-time custodian, it has fallen on one of the investigators to manage the property room from time to time, which takes away from the time they could spend working on cases. Without having a full-time property custodian in place, several issues have arisen over the past year.
For instance, a Daily Light article published May 4, 2016, reported the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested Lt. Phillip Slaughter and Deputy Thomas Glen Smith in connection with an alleged firearms theft from the sheriff’s office property room.
“Obviously the property room needs to be taken a look at. Without a full-time custodian in there, there has been a backlog. Of course, then there are the events of earlier (the gun theft). We want to make sure that operation is running as it should and running according to laws and standards,” Edge said. “We want to get to where there is not going to be that question and there not be that issue.”
Edge added he would approach the commissioner’s court for any addition employees that are needed. The court will have to approve the positions before the changes go into effect.
Another area he is looking is resource management to see how departments within the agency can be better used and how deputies can better serve areas in the county and how resources can be used more efficiently. He also is looking to provide additional training and resources for personnel.
“We want to increase our training and have the deputies, the detention officers, and detectives to get the chance to get some modern training. We have our own training division and they are good. They keep all the required classes that we have to have to keep our license. Obviously, there are some things that are outside of their expertise,” Edge stated. “I would like to send our folks to the outside schools to get some training that we can’t do in-house.”
Edge noted groups such as the Law Enforcement Management Institute offer top quality training that is free and would be a great benefit for employees.
MORALE DRIVES RETENTION
Another one of the issues Edge has noted his office must address is that of personnel retention. The length with the organization varies from employee to employee. Edge feels that without a clear path for employees to see where they can continue to grow or see opportunities for advancement retention, the trend will continue to be a problem.
“Obviously we have folks in detention that are close to retirement. I did sign a separation paper today for somebody who said, ‘this is not for me, I am resigning’ and they been here two months. You don’t like to see the two months. You don’t like to see the one or two years because of the training that they have to go through and the time investment then they realize it is not for them. Then you have to start over,” Edge explained. “We just need to do a good job of taking care of the folks that we have and giving them incentives to stay.”
Edge said there are some things he can’t change but other areas he can address, such as improving morale which he believes helps with retention. By improving morale, a positive environment is fostered where a person is excited about coming to work. That positivity then affects others around them, Edge remarked.
Edge is also looking revising and updating the sheriff’s office policy manual. Some of the sections in the manual have areas reference previous sheriffs such as Ray Stewart. Stewart was elected in 1996 and served till 2008.
Edge said the support from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I am hearing nothing but good things. I have had a lot of people tell me they hear nothing but good things. Obviously, you have folks that are disgruntled. You always will. That is the nature of the business, but we seem to have good support from the commissioners, good support from the judge and good support from the people in here,” Edge said. “I have had a whole lot of folks say that they are glad to come to work now. They are happy. The morale is up. I hear it just about every day. That is good to hear because they are ready.”
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