By SHELLY WILKISON
Two Liberty Hill police officers are in Canton this week, helping law enforcement officials there after seven tornadoes tore through the small town and neighboring communities April 29.
Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell said Sgt. Robert Fox and Sgt. Royce Graeter were “mobilized as a small team to provide aid and assistance there” on Monday. The sergeants are using Liberty Hill PD marked vehicles in Canton. He said it was unknown how long they would be there, but anticipated at least three days.
Campbell said when the department learned that law enforcement help was needed in Van Zandt County, Fox and Graeter volunteered to make the trip.
He said the police department budget has funds available to pay for the officers’ deployment, paying their salaries and expenses while away. He added that “some private anonymous pledges” had been made to support the department’s mutual aid efforts if needed.
“At this point, they will be assisting with law enforcement support working 12-hour shifts and providing mutual aid as needed,” Campbell said. “We received information law enforcement in the area is very short-handed at this time.”
Campbell added that he plans to request reimbursement through federal and state agencies, since the region was declared a disaster area and a state of emergency was declared by the Governor.
Campbell said in the absence of two patrol sergeants, he and Lt. Jeff Ringstaff are doing some patrols and some reserve officers have stepped up to help.
“I think overtime will be very minimal while they’re gone,” he said. “We try to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. So some of our salaried guys have stepped up to cover shifts.”
He added that the officers would not have been deployed if “we weren’t able to support our operations at minimum staffing.” He said unpaid reserve officers offered to make sacrifices to fill in.
Campbell added that Fox and Graeter, who was just promoted last week, met with incident command in Canton at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, and were assigned zones to patrol in Canton.
“The zone they are working is one of the most impacted areas,” he said.
The officers will report back to Campbell on the third day if mutual aid is still needed. While away, the officers are staying in Athens, about 20 miles south of Canton.
Having previously worked as a police chief in Kansas, Campbell said he is very familiar with the devastation caused by tornadoes, such as those that touched down in the Canton area Saturday afternoon. When he heard the news, he spoke with police staff and they discussed what could be done to help.
“We’re small, but have a big heart,” Campbell said of LHPD.
“We came up with a game plan, then reached out to that community and asked if they needed assistance,” he said. “They said they needed as much assistance as they could get.”
Authorities in northeast Texas say four people were killed and more than 50 were injured when as many as tornadoes touched down in Van Zandt, Henderson and Rains counties last Saturday. Officials say the most damage was suffered in the Canton area.
Canton is about 200 miles northeast of Liberty Hill.
“If it (a tornado) happened here, I wouldn’t care who came to help,” Campbell said. “I’ve seen the devastation caused by some of these disasters. We try to take care of each other. I’ve been in these situations, and there’s nothing like seeing that help coming in.”
Campbell said he feels it’s important that Liberty Hill be known as a community that’s willing to help out — even if it’s as far away as East Texas.