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Rusk County sheriff, community cite success in first term

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Jan. 16, 2014 at 11 p.m.

Since Rusk County's sheriff has completed his first year in office, Henderson police officials said they have noticed more interdepartmental communication between the city and the county law enforcement agencies.

"We know his department will help us if we need it, and we'll do the same for them," Henderson Police Lt. Craig Sweeney said Thursday.

Improving communication between law enforcement agencies was one of the many goals Sheriff Jeff Price sought to accomplish in his first year of office.

"We're more open to the public and more open with one another now," said Sgt. David Roberts with the sheriff's office. "It's been a big improvement."

Price said achieving openness was also one of his main objectives.

"So far, it seems to have been a good year as far as what we were able to achieve," he said. "I think the general perception of this department is a lot better than in the past."

It's not simply that Price wants his employees to be happy and in communication with one another. He's also tried to increase his interaction with the media and the department's cooperation with other law enforcement agencies. Sweeney said the narcotics units and tactical teams from both departments frequently work together.

"We don't hide anything," Price said. "If something happens, we're going to let people know about it."

Turnover when Price took over as sheriff was relatively low, he said. Of more than 100 department employees, 10 left during the transition. Since then, two employees retired, one was dismissed and three left for other employment. All have been replaced, and the Rusk County Commissioners Court also approved Price's request for an additional employee to serve as a transport officer.

One of the major changes Price has made is to place more emphasis on training for all the department's employees.

"Our amount of training hours increased in 2013, but we hope to increase it even more in 2014," he said. "The better-trained an officer is, the more efficient he or she is on the street and in all other job functions."

Price has been encouraging all officers and jailers to take the required classes to move up to the next level of peace officer certification. The process has been helped along by the department hosting or co-hosting several schools and training programs during the past year.

"We've been working with the City of Henderson Police Department to bring higher-level classes to this area," he said. "This allows more of our officers to take the classes and lowers the cost to the department."

Price, who was a Henderson police officer for many years before being elected sheriff, said interagency cooperation is another area of focus.

Working relationships between the Rusk County Sheriff's Office and the police departments within the county, as well as with sheriff's offices in adjacent counties, have improved in the past year, he said.

"There are only so many law enforcement officers around, and we're outnumbered by the bad guys, so we need to work together," Price said.

One of the ways in which Price is working with other departments is by helping to create a network of officers in different departments to help combat oilfield thefts. Rusk County has one deputy assigned specifically to such thefts; although the officer also has other duties, all oilfield thefts are handled by him.

His cooperation with the cities in Rusk County hasn't just been noticed by those in law enforcement.

"He's very pro-active in the community, and the city has a good relationship with his department, said Rusty Chote, acting city manager for Henderson.

Bonnie Geddie, executive director of the Henderson Area Chamber of Commerce, was also pleased by Price's work.

"I think he's done an excellent job," Geddie said. "He's very active and very visible throughout the community."

Rusk County crime statistics in 2012 to 2013 show a mixed bag. Cases of theft, sexual assault and driving while intoxicated all decreased during 2013, but cases of burglary and burglary of a vehicle increased. The number of aggravated assaults remained the same in both years.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed that burglaries have increased in the past year, but we've looked into it, and there's no real rhyme or reason to these crimes," Price said. "I don't whether they can be attributed to the economy or what."

The transition to taking the sheriff's job was easier than Price had anticipated, he said.

"I think that's due to the staff," Price said. We've got people in place who know their jobs, and I trust them to do what needs to be done."



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