Police shifting focus from traffic to community patrols

By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill police are writing fewer traffic citations and directing more attention to community patrols and crime prevention.

Police Chief Randy Williams said the number of traffic citations has dropped in recent months as officers are spending more time on patrol in the community.

Police activitiy reports provided to The Independent for the months of July through December 2013 show declining numbers of traffic violations. In July, there were 198 and in August, 165.

In September, the total dropped to 64. October’s traffic violations numbered 74, in November, 91, and in December the total was 74.

“We’ve shifted focus from spending so much time on traffic to community patrols,” said Williams. “We aren’t spending as much time on the highway as we were.”

Williams said he redirected officers in response to increased criminal activity within the city limits in 2013. He said thefts and burglaries were becoming more common — some of which had occurred at businesses, the schools and the football stadium. As a result, an increased police presence was needed there.

According to Williams’ activity reports for the past six months, the number of thefts ranged from three reported each month in August, September and December, to four in July, five in October and seven in November.

There were 13 reports of criminal mischief, two residential burglaries, two burglaries of businesses and one burglary of a vehicle.

Four assaults were reported from July through August, and one sexual assault was reported in August. No assaults were reported from September through December.

Williams said officers are also responding to more calls for service at the apartment complex in Liberty Hill. While few calls resulted in physical violence, officers are responding to increased numbers of domestic disturbances and “loud arguments.”

“When you have that many people living close together, you will have issues,” he added.

Reports show officers responded to four disturbances each in the months of July and December, 16 in August, two in September, eight in October, and seven in November.

As officers focus more on community patrols and prevention, the case load has also increased. Officers are spending more time working on criminal investigations and less time writing traffic tickets.

“The level of need shifted and we shifted with it,” Williams said.

During the past six months, Williams said there were fewer vehicle crashes with serious injuries or fatalities within the city limits. He said that is an indication that heavy patrol on State Highway 29 in the past has effectively slowed down traffic resulting in fewer serious collisions.

“Over the years, Liberty Hill has gotten a reputation as a speed trap,” he said. “Although I disagree with that, I do believe it has helped slow down traffic.

“We have had crashes, but most have been rear-ends (collisions), not t-bones or more serious,” he said. More serious collisions are typically related to speed.

Just as a police presence helps to slow down drivers, traffic stops also present opportunities to slow the movement of drugs through Liberty Hill, and make arrests on outstanding warrants.

As the number of traffic stops has declined, so have the number of drug and warrant arrests. During the six-month period of July through December, arrests ranged from two and four during the peak months of July and August, and dropped to one each month from September through December.

Drug-related offenses druring the six-month period were limited to August and September. In August, one possession of a dangerous drug was reported; and in September, one marijuana possession, one dangerous drug possession and one controlled substance possession were reported.

Williams added that the decreased number of traffic and drug-related violations could also be attributed to the fact that the high school is no longer located inside the city limits.

“There are no high school issues now,” he said.

The new Liberty Hill High School is in the law enforcement  jurisdiction of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.

The Liberty Hill Police Department is currently staffed by five full-time officers including Chief Williams, one part-time officer assigned to the Municipal Court and one part-time reserve officer (unpaid). The department does not maintain staff 24 hours a day.

Williams said the department has been short-staffed for much of the fall as officers have been out due to personal or family illness.

“We barely have enough people to do what we need to do,” he said.

“When you have a small (police) department, priorities are set on what you want to focus on,” Williams said.