Gleason’s goal is to improve image of WilCo Sheriff’s Office

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By Christian Betancourt

After retiring in 2017, Williamson County Sheriff Mike Gleason returned to law enforcement this year to continue his teenage dreams of policing and run the department that helped him grow throughout his career.

“I was in class in junior high school, and it was career day,” he recalls. “These two officers from the Austin Police Department were talking, and I just thought it was fascinating. I just knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”

Since joining the Sheriff’s Office, he has held more than a dozen different positions there.

He started as a corrections officer and climbed the ranks to Chief Deputy for the jail, eventually holding 13 different positions in patrol and corrections.

When the opportunity presented itself to run for Sheriff in 2020, he said he was partly driven by a sense of commitment to the colleagues he left behind when he retired three years earlier.

“I felt responsible for these people because I’ve known them all for 30 years,” he said. “I wanted to make sure they didn’t have to worry more about the guy in this office than the criminal in the streets. I wanted to make sure they had a voice.”

During the previous administration, Gleason said the department gained a bad reputation both with the public and the deputies now working under his charge.

“We actually have a pretty big black eye in the law enforcement community right now because of the last four years,” he said. “We are correcting that. People are coming back to work for us. The Commissioners Court has been gracious enough to work with us during the last eight months by increasing our benefits and raises.”

Gleason said in order to improve the public image of the department, he has met with several community groups to assure them his office would have their best interest as a priority.

“We try to make it out to all the community events and be available,” he said. “We ask them to tell us what they want, to tell us where we’re missing our mark, and we’ll try to improve. We want to repair this relationship and let them know they’re dealing with a whole new entire group of people now.”

The WCSO serves about 609,000 citizens within an 1,124-mile radius, according to the latest census.

“There is no one, big, dominant city that encompasses Williamson County,” he said. “A lot of the citizens that we serve live in unincorporated jurisdictions. They don’t have city services. They rely on the county … for their public safety services.”

Another challenge Gleason said he has been fighting during his first year in office is hiring and retaining quality officers due to salary limitation within the county created by years of falling behind compared to other departments in the area.

“It just fell by the wayside,” he said. “It’s not any one person’s fault. You have to remain competitive as you move forward. The problem is that now we are so far behind that the fix is just so expensive, and we can only do a little bit, so we can never catch up.”

WCSO runs the county jail. Gleason said he implemented services for those incarcerated to help them get better instead of creating a revolving door effect.

“We completely brought back our crisis intervention team,” he said. “We put an emphasis on mental health and getting people out of my jail and into services to get them the help that they need. We recognize that people can’t get out of this criminal justice cycle until we start addressing what’s bringing them to us. We’re getting people out of jail that don’t need to be in jail.”

Gleason said keeping offenders accused of petty crimes out of jail allows his staff to deal with overcrowding, saving taxpayers money.

“We get them out of jail to help their lawyers defend them,” he said. “We’ve been able to prove that people that have a good support system and are out of jail working on their own defense do not come back.”

While it’s been a challenging eight months for Gleason, he said he has been able to accomplish some of the things promised during the campaign.

“We have successfully gotten pay raises for everybody with the help of the Commissioners Court,” he said. “We are in the process of rewriting all of our policies and procedures. We introduced a due process system (for deputies). We’ve revamped the way we do things in the jail. We have started a fair and equitable hiring and promotion process. We’re starting a very robust training program for our command people.”

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