Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith held his first town hall meeting Tuesday evening to inform the public on the department's initiatives and answer questions from attendees.
Smith started the meeting in the Whitehouse High School cafeteria with an hour-long presentation on the changes and future goals of the department.
"I want for you to know the sheriff's office belongs to you, the citizen," the lawman said to the crowd of about 100. "It doesn't belong to me. I'm managing the sheriff's office for four years and hopefully more after that."
The department has become more transparent, he said, with the addition of a public information officer, news conferences, social media, as well as the creation of a human resources and office professional responsibility, otherwise known as internal affairs.
"I think you can see if you've been watching the news that we've already utilized that (the office of professional responsibility) …" he said. "We will clean up our doorstep. … The bar has been raised at the sheriff's office. You can ask the men and women there, they will tell you it's been raised. My expectations of them are high and they are high for a reason."
The department also has more deputies on the streets at any given time. The department has a total of 40 deputies and eight sergeants, with 10 patrol and two sergeants on the streets each 12-hour shift, Smith said. There are measures in the works out to keep deputies in their assigned patrol area including the possible purchase of iPads for virtual briefings at the beginning of each shift and the addition of gas cards, so they would not have to drive to Tyler for fuel in the middle of a shift.
The department also is focusing on major crimes, drug issues and unsolved homicides, according to Smith. Some of the misdemeanor case workload has been allocated to patrol sergeants to free up some of the investigator's time. There have been three homicides in the county since Smith took office. He said all three have been solved, in addition to two unsolved murders.
"Now we are down to 23 (unsolved homicides)," Smith said before the meeting. "Many of those go back to the 1980s, which are very difficult to solve, but a homicide has no statute of limitations, so you are always trying to help provide closure for the victim's family and find the perpetrator."
Deputies also are better equipped with the addition of Tasers, two K9 dogs, new vehicles, and a boat with sonar.
Smith said there also are efforts to create a communication flow from the sheriff's office to city police departments and neighboring counties.
As Smith spoke, attendees wrote down questions for him to answer after the presentation. Inquiries ranged from county-specific issues, such as how many inmates are currently held in other counties (117) to Second Amendment rights and the federal government. Smith said he would not participate in any violation of law-abiding citizens, but there were instances when firearms could be confiscated from a felon.
"I will tell you if it comes to a violation of the Second Amendment, we will not do that," Smith said.
He also addressed budget issues, the new jail and the training of staff, working relationships with other departments and internal promotions and hiring.
"I will say we don't use the good ‘ole boy system for promotion," Smith said. "We don't use the good ‘ole boy system for hiring. … The promotional process we have gone through has provided some good leadership in the department and it has increased morale because they see that things are done fairly."
The sheriff said he was proud of how far the department has come in a short number of months, but long-range goals had not been reached.
"I promised to run (this) office by the Constitution and to use the Holy Bible as a guide, and I think we have accomplished that."