Sheriff meets with Santa Rita residents

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By ANTHONY FLORES

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody visited with members of the new Santa Rita Ranch Neighborhood Watch to discuss a variety of safety and security issues.

Chody, up for reelection in November, spoke with several parents July 28 about safety and what they can do to be an effective neighborhood watch. The sheriff spoke on the issues that their data shows are the most common reasons for 9-1-1 calls.

“9-1-1 hang-up calls are our number one call for service. When people accidentally call 9-1-1 or a child accidentally calls 9-1-1, the problem with that is we have to send an officer to respond. So it ties up our resources,” Chody said. “Our second biggest call is burglary of vehicles. That seems to be a common thing all across the county.”

Chody said the simplest way to prevent theft is by locking doors. He stressed that it’s rare that criminals will go out of their way to bring attention to themselves by breaking a window.

“What helps as a neighborhood watch program is educating the community on locking doors. That is probably the biggest thing we see, people not locking their doors,” he said. “One thing we try to do is put a reminder up at 9 o’clock on our social media. That tells you when you see it that it’s time to go lock your car doors, garage door, and front and back doors.”

When one parent voiced their hesitation to call 9-1-1, Chody stressed that if they feel something suspicious, follow that instinct and call.

“I will tell you that here in Williamson County if you feel like you’re seeing something suspicious and can articulate why it’s suspicious, we’ll check it out,” Chody said. “A suspicious call is a priority call. Somebody lurking around at night is a priority call. It’s a 9-1-1 call.”

Chody also discussed the benefits of following county social media and how it can help community members stay up to date with issues happening at the moment.

“We have an app called the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office App (WCSO),” he said. “If you put your alerts on, we try not to overwhelm with alerts; we want them to mean something. If it affects a large portion of the county, I want you to know about it.”

He also took some time to share some of the things he claims have changed for the better since he was elected sheriff, including an improved 9-1-1 response time, improved CIT (Crisis Resolution Teams) response, progress made on cold cases, technological improvements like drones, and involvement with various task forces.

When asked about increased staffing, Chody discussed the difficulty he’s had with the Commissioners Court and the budget he wants and says he needs to improve the sheriff’s department.

“The problem I have is that I have to go to the court for my positions. I have to have four commissioners and judge approve my budget,” he said. “I even had one commissioner complain because it was the highest budget that we’ve ever requested, and I make no apologies for that. If something happens, I will say that I asked, and you didn’t give this to us. I’m telling you what I need.”

Pressed on the issue of misuse of force by law enforcement, with the recent George Floyd incident mentioned, Chody first made the point that what happened to Floyd was wrong. The sheriff discussed some of the ways he says his department tries to avoid misuse of force and hold any misconduct accountable.

“I just hate to see that a whole profession is labeled off of one incident so far away, it’s not representative of APD, and it’s not representative of Williamson County,” said Chody. “When that happened, I reached out to Nelson Linder (chapter president of the Austin NAACP) and asked him how we can sit down and discuss some of the issues that we can do better.”

Chody discussed becoming accredited by Commission for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), which is comprised of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

The CALEA accreditation process focuses on improving policies and procedures. There are four programs: Law Enforcement, Communications, Training Academy, and Campus Security.

“It’s called the best practices. In other words, what agencies do the best practices with policies,” said Chody. “You want to make sure you’re doing the best use of force policy. You want to make sure you’re doing the best pursuit policy. In order to be CALEA recognized, you have to prove what you’re doing. We’ve already gone through the whole process, and we’re just waiting to get the stamp of approval.”

After the meeting, Chody was asked for his response to calls for his resignation by the Williamson County Commissioners Court after the Javier Ambler incident, which occurred over a year ago.

“It’s a difficult situation for the family,” Chody said. “I don’t like that part at all. I know that many people jumped the gun on what occurred and how it occurred. It’s a shame that people decided to do that based on what’s going on in our world today. We have two deputies in a situation where politics took over versus what truly happened. I think you’ll see at the end of all of this that they’ll be vindicated. For anybody to make a comment on just what a news outlet says is just irresponsible.”

Chody denied the accusation that facts about the incident were hidden, discussing the measure taken to make sure the facts were known.

“There was a comment made that this was a secret, and I went back and contacted the CEO of the county — the County Judge — and called him five times; there are phone records to prove that,” he said. “I put out a Tweet that morning when that occurred as well as Austin Police. At least two different news agencies reported an in-custody death. The commissioners court’s attorney put out an email to the County Attorney. It wasn’t a secret, that’s how we do everything.”

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