Millionaire cop brings new energy to Sheriff’s Office

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Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody took office on New Year’s Day and has already created a strong working relationship with Liberty Hill Police Department. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody took office on New Year’s Day and has already created a strong working relationship with Liberty Hill Police Department. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

GEORGETOWN — After a terse transition left him without the usual preparations, Williamson County’s new sheriff felt no time could be wasted. Minutes after his midnight swearing-in ceremony on New Year’s Day, Rob Chody and his staff began the process of making the county sheriff’s department building their own. They moved boxes, threw out old computers, fixed toilets.

Sheriff Chody returned at 6 a.m. to begin the first day of his new administration.

At age 46, Chody’s relatively young. He speaks in a rapid-fire delivery, and could boast (though he doesn’t) a semi-celebrity status as the “millionaire cop” after the flurry of media attention that has followed his law enforcement career since he won a $58 million lottery in 2001. His high-energy presence in a room already marks a departure from his reserved and methodical predecessor, Sheriff James Wilson.

Announcing his plans to issue body cameras for all officers, cut down the climbing number of DWI fatalities, and raise the public image of law enforcement, Chody says he will bring a new “drive, energy, and passion” to the office.

“At night, I ride out with my patrol deputies,” he said, “I walk the pods myself with the corrections officers.”

And in step with a younger generation, he’s a prolific poster on social media.

“People know me for my Facebook,” he says. “You see Austin’s (former Police Chief) Art Acevedo, he was notorious for that.”

Like Acevedo, Chody uses a Facebook page for his official position to spotlight his officers and their work. The page has 9,730 ‘Likes.’

“It’s important to motivate your troops,” he said. The Facebook page belongs to Chody’s broader goal of uplifting the image of law enforcement publicly.

“We need to prove to the patrol deputy on the street, or the correctional officer walking the pod, that the community really does care about law enforcement.”

A post last week that garnered 938 ‘likes’ describes how a complaint against an officer for rudeness was discovered to be unfounded after review of the patrol car dashcam footage.

“He actually held a bottle for the driver’s baby,” said Chody, who gave the officer a Sheriff’s Coin — a new commemorative badge of honor Chody has announced he will present to officers for outstanding work.

The incident, he says, highlights the importance of cameras in police work, and the need to work quickly for the implementation of body cameras.

“Imagine if this were a more serious claim,” he said. “We’re in a world where people don’t always believe the officer.”

“If we didn’t have the dashboard camera, we would have had a question whether one of our officers was rude,” he said. “Imagine if there was a more serious claim.”

Chody himself was the subject of an accusation of undue force when he served in the Austin Police Department as an officer, shortly before becoming winning the lottery. The lawsuit was quietly settled by the City of Austin in 2001.

Williamson County had the opportunity to receive a grant that would have paid for body cameras, Chody said, but that window already passed under the previous administration. He says his staff is working quickly to find a solution.

“This is part of something national,” he said. “We are going to get body cams. There’s no doubt about it.”

Chody says the previous administration also turned down a grant that would have provided overtime pay to deputies working on DWI offenses, “at no cost to the taxpayer or county.”

The reduction of DWI-related fatalities, which county records show steadily rose from five in 2004 to 13 in 2015, is another front Chody expects to make progress on soon. He reports that his department is in talks to reclaim the overtime pay grant for overtime pay, although they’re also working on other efforts.

On a more immediate time frame, Chody has already implemented changes, some ceremonial and others more substantial.

Sheriff’s Department patch colors were changed, as were minor stylistic changes in the patrol uniforms. The front of the department building was power-washed for the first time in years.

Out of the 538 employees, eight were terminated when Chody took office.

“That’s a very low number for a department our size,” he said.

Ten correctional officers have been hired out of the 31 vacancies Chody hopes to fill by the end of next month, which he says will bring the jail staff up to capacity.

“We need to keep the inmates safe,” he said, walking through the barred hallways of the jail’s older section. “Imagine if they were your family.”

Scanning wands that detect drugs will now also be used to search inmates, another change from the previous administration.

“That’s a really good idea,” said a passing correctional officer in conversation with Chody.

Visitation policy for the jail has also been changed.

“That’s something that happened in the first week,” Chody said.

An inmate had approached Chody in the jail’s common area, and told Chody that his niece had driven to visit him, but was being barred entry because she was not the inmate’s immediate family, though she was the only family he had. Chody’s new policy holds that inmates are now allowed up to six visitors of any kind, provided they are not accomplices.

Chody says he first became interested in law enforcement at age 14, after an officer responded to help his mother, himself and his siblings from a situation of chronic domestic violence. That early formative experience, he says, is why he never considered ever leaving law enforcement even after becoming the “millionaire cop.”

He said he would love to give that officer one of his Sheriff’s coins.

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