There’s a new badge in town, literally and figuratively.
Since being sworn into office Tuesday, new Denton County Sheriff William Travis has begun making the office his own — changing personnel, uniforms and even badges.
“I’m just beyond excited,” said Travis during an interview in his new office Friday. “I’m ready to make the changes we need to get this county looking and acting professional again.”
Travis, wearing a long-sleeved khaki shirt, new dark green pants and a larger updated sheriff’s badge, showed off what he says is a more polished and updated look to the office.
“We will have ties and a nice pair of pants for when there needs to be a more formal encounters, such as a funeral or court appearance,” said Travis, who beat incumbent Benny Parkey in the May Republican primary with 54 percent of the vote.
“When you change your dress, you just have a whole new outlook and feeling about yourself,” he said.
Travis added that he hopes the feeling is a polished one.
“During my meeting with the team today, I even offered $200 to the best designed new patch by an officer,” he said. “When that is turned over — in about two weeks’ time — we will all have new patches as well.”
The uniform changes are within budget, Travis said, adding that he plans to use funds earmarked for replacement uniforms as well as some funds from the sheriff’s office reserve account.
“I am only getting new pants — we will transition from a dark brown to a dark green — and new badges,” said Travis, who mentioned everyone in the department will be made over with the new look, from bailiff to patrol officer, within the next few months. The color of the shirts will remain the same, he said.
“There is money already in the budget that hasn’t been spent,” Travis said. “I am a fiscal conservative and will not be spending unnecessary money; I want to watch your [the taxpayer] dollars.”
According to the 2012-13 county budget, $39,775 is earmarked in the sheriff’s budget for uniforms with an additional $58,000 adopted for jail uniforms. The overall budget for the sheriff’s office for the 2012-13 fiscal year is roughly $44 million for 586 current employees, Travis said.
Public safety accounts for 30 percent of the county’s $210.5 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. That portion includes the sheriff’s department, jail operations, communications, constables, emergency management services and other public safety-related expenses.
“Typically, we replace uniforms every year,” said Donna Stewart, the county’s budget officer. “So that when they have turnover — if they don’t have any in stock — they can order them. … I don’t know if I could tell you when the last time [a mass purchase] was done.”
Travis will be changing not only the uniform but also the look of any new cars purchased. The vehicles will have a black and white logo instead of the current logo, which is white with gold lettering.
“The new color scheme will begin in May, when the next set of cars is ordered,” Travis said. “This will require no additional cost, and I am not changing all the cars we have. From now on, when a car is ordered, it will just have a different color.”
The sheriff’s office currently has a fleet of about 50 cars and is budgeted to order an additional 11 cars this year.
With the recent loss of Chico, the sheriff’s only K-9, Travis is already working on getting a new dog and a new handler trained to be added to the office as soon as possible.
After a nearly three-week search, investigators learned the K-9 was shot and killed by a Collin County landowner who called deputies to confess Friday, saying he feared the dog was a threat to his livestock. Chico had escaped from his handler’s backyard a few weeks ago after a storm blew the gate open.
“Chico and his handler’s training cost the county $13,000 and I am looking at that range again. Those monies will come from the drug forfeiture fund we currently have in place,” Travis said. “I think one of the reasons I was elected is because I handle business fiscally.”
Denton County commissioners are in a wait-and-see mode as Travis reshapes the department to fit his vision.
“Any time there is a new sheriff in any county, there will be folks who aren’t too happy because there’s a certain amount of loyalty to the prior sheriff,” County Judge Mary Horn said. “The new sheriff has a prerogative to make changes within budgetary restraint, and I am certainly willing to look at what he is proposing.
“So far, I don’t have any problems with anything he is doing or wants to do. I can’t say with certainty that won’t change in the future because I don’t know that yet,” Horn said when asked about the sudden changes within the sheriff’s office this past week.
The new vision doesn’t just include wardrobe changes; it includes opportunity Travis says he feels hasn’t been offered before.
“I have let roughly 10 people go since I came into office. I didn’t have a whole team of people with me ready to be sworn in, which is usually the case,” Travis said. “What I want to offer is opportunity. A reason to stay with the county is growth.”
By growth, Travis says he means a shot at getting to apply for top positions. Travis brought two employees with him: Rex George, an investigator with the Denton County District Attorney’s Office, to serve as chief deputy and Randy Plemons, who just ended a 25-year tenure with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, to serve as the assistant deputy chief of operations.
“When I announced the news to a room full of 350 employees earlier today [Friday], it was very well received. You could say they were in awe,” Travis said. “Everyone should have the ability to promote up, should they desire and have the right qualifications.”
Commissioner Hugh Coleman said it was unfortunate that Travis had to let people go, but, like Horn, he understands that the new sheriff wants to put his own stamp on the office.
“But I hope he remembers that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that he considers the county’s budgetary restraints in trying to create the new sheriff’s department,” Coleman said.
Travis indicated the previous administration removed more than twice the number of people than he has to date. Former Sheriff Benny Parkey confirmed that in a phone interview Saturday.
“I did clean house and did what I felt I needed to do, much like the new sheriff is doing what he feels like he needs to do,” Parkey said.
At least six or seven of his senior staff retired with Parkey, he said.
“When I came into office, the outgoing people didn’t leave, and so that’s one of the reasons my numbers are higher,” Parkey said.
So far, three people have been promoted — Doug Lee from traffic sergeant to patrol captain, Susan Elrod from criminal investigations sergeant to warrant lieutenant, and Joe Connolly from professional standards sergeant to internal affairs.
“There will be a pay increase for those three, but I am not going to the Commissioners Court requesting such,” Travis said. “Whatever is determined by human resources is fine with me.”
The new sheriff says he just wants to hit the ground running.
“I just want everyone to feel good about themselves and then go out and begin more community policing — overall bringing a better quality deputy to this department,” Travis said. “I am striving to bring forth the utmost integrity within.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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