Smith County commissioners on Tuesday reached a consensus to send two county animal control officers to the police academy to earn peace officer’s licenses.

The item on Tuesday’s commission agenda did not require a vote, but commissioners had to reach a consensus in order to give direction to Amber Greene, animal control and shelter supervisor, said Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

The issue of animal control officers becoming licensed peace officers came up in December. The discussion centered around the benefits, cost and how many should be licensed.

At the December commissioners meeting, Greene said her employees are responsible for loose animals, animal bites and animal cruelty cases, adding that officers protect residents and property.

She said with those duties and others, it’s important for animal control officers to be well trained to better serve the community.

As licensed peace officers, animal control officers would be able to handle issues such as animal cruelty cases from arrest to prosecution rather than bringing in other departments, such as the sheriff’s office, she said.

Right now, animal control officers have to request assistance from a deputy to investigate possible animal cruelty cases.

“This is twice the time needed to prosecute a crime and twice the expense,” she said. “This is all time and money spent which could be cut in half if the (animal control officers) could do it all.”

Training for the animal control officers to become licensed would be done through the East Texas Council of Governments, meaning there would be no cost to the county, Moran said. However, some costs such as equipment and pay increases would arise on the back end.

“I think the animal control officer, by (becoming) peace officers, will allow them to do their jobs more effectively,” Gwen Coyle with Angle Paw Advocates said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “It will also allow that abuse and neglect that we see pretty much on a daily, hourly basis to be more effectively handled.”

JoAnn Hampton, Pct. 4 commissioner, said she does not have an issue with allowing animal control officers to receive a peace officer’s license. However, she said she believe only two of the officers should become licensed at this time.

Hampton said licensing the entire animal control department could lead to some officers going to different departments once certified.

“I would like to try two and see how many cases it grows,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Cary Nix said. “If it’s taking more and more time, then maybe we can look at adding more over time, but I think the director and one other (should be licensed) and see where it goes from there.”

After discussions during Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners agreed that Greene and one other employee from her department could obtain a peace officer’s license. If more officers need to become licensed in the future, the issue can be brought back to the court.

“This is actually a nice step for your office and something that will provide a lot of added benefit without all the added cost on the backside,” Moran said.

 
 

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