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TX Sheriff Looks to Hire Consultant to Aid in Community Outreach

Dallas Morning News via YellowBrix

October 11, 2010

DALLAS – Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez wants to hire a consultant to help her reach out to the community and develop community-policing initiatives.

Much of what the Sheriff’s Department does involves running the jail system, the nation’s seventh-largest. But Valdez also has a traffic unit that patrols freeways mainly in the southern part of the county.

The Sheriff’s Department has received money from federal community policing grants over the years. She wants to hire Regina L. Sobieski, a trainer and consultant for the U.S. attorney’s office, to develop community-policing initiatives she’s wanted for some time, sheriff’s officials said.

Valdez proposes to spend $33,280 of her federal drug-forfeiture money to hire Sobieski. The plan has not yet been presented to county commissioners. Because Valdez is using forfeiture money, the commissioners don’t have to approve it.

Chief Deputy Joseph Costa said that one of the first things Valdez wanted to do when she was elected was “get closer to the community.” Another factor, he said, is that federal grant applications ask for an explanation of community-policing initiatives.

He said community outreach could involve schools, homeowners associations and local businesses. He said traffic and warrant deputies would likely give crime prevention tips to community groups and take part in educational programs for school kids.

It also could include trips to local truck stops, which can be havens for drugs, prostitution and related crimes, he said.

“It’s not just speaking to groups. It’s getting out there and knowing who your customers are,” Costa said.

Sobieski has helped the Sheriff’s Department write some grants in the past, he said. She also has run a kids camp that the agency took part in, Costa said.

Sobieski has done similar community-policing work for the Arlington Police Department. Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Ellis Richard said Sobieski helped the department with Project Safe Neighborhoods federal grants and other grants.

Costa said traffic deputies who are available when schedules allow will take part in community-policing work as long as they’re not needed to respond to freeway accidents.

He said the idea is to be proactive rather than reactive and “getting out there and knowing your community and who you serve.”

“She will go to the community and ask people what they want; what programs and services they need,” Costa said.

Sobieski, a victims’ rights and criminal justice expert, has written more than $5 million worth of grants and proposals for various agencies. She is a federal grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department. She has worked for the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The federal Community Oriented Policing, or COPS, grant application asks what community programs agencies are involved with, Costa said.

“We put those down and now have to carry them out,” he said. “This will give us a roadmap on how to do that.”

Costa said that while the Sheriff’s Department has countywide jurisdiction, it will focus in part on unincorporated areas of the county.

Such efforts will involve existing resources, he said.

Costa said he hopes to have some programs in place within a year. The sheriff’s citizens academy that began in 2008 is an example of community outreach, he said. The 10-week program, given twice a year, teaches residents about crime-scene investigation, traffic enforcement and jail operations.

Participants get to tour the court system and attend demonstrations by the canine and SWAT units.

“We want to be better at what we do,” Costa said. “And it will help us when we apply for grants to show what we’ve done.”

Community outreach by deputies has been challenging since the department had to merge its patrol unit with the traffic division in 2008 because of budgetary constraints.

Patrol deputies historically had a strong presence in unincorporated areas of the county, which have been gradually shrinking as more land is annexed by cities. Deputies still respond to calls in the unincorporated area, which has about 9,000 residents, but their primary duties are patrolling freeways.

A Sheriff’s Department labor organization at the time expressed concern that the change would mean lack of a presence in the unincorporated areas, which had served as a crime deterrent.

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