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Sheriff's Citizen Academy - 12 patrol officers for 792 square miles

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's Note: Next week's article on the Sheriff's Citizen Academy will focus on the Bandera County Jail.)

During the second week of the Sheriff's Citizen Academy, held at the Bandera County Jail and Justice Center, participants learned the good, bad and ugly facts about current manpower in the BCSO.

Surprisingly, Only 12 fulltime patrol deputies protect the county's more than 20,000 residents, who sprawl over 792 square miles of a rural county. Patrols are also responsible for six square miles of water.

Contrast that to the former City of Bandera Police Department that boasted five fulltime officers to cover one square mile and its 850 residents. Oh, and a part-time officer had to be hired to take care of incidents in Bandera City Park.

According to Capt. Charlie Hicks, the BCSO currently has 28 fulltime law enforcement officers, which includes three administrators; one officer assigned to community relations; seven support officers, including animal control and bailiffs, among others; and five deputies assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division.

Additionally, the department has 11 emergency dispatchers, two clerical support staff and 22 corrections officers. The department also has 13 reserve deputies that must work a minimum of 16 hours a month - free of charge - to keep their commissions current. "Most work far more than the minimum number of hours," Hicks said. "Our goal is to build a stronger reserve program in the future."

He said that in 2011, deputies had responded to 23,000 emergency calls.

From Jan. 1, 2012 to date, emergency dispatch has fielded approximately 7,000 calls. Hicks speculated that calls have increased due to a poorer than usual economy.

"Last year, CID investigated 334 felony cases and over 330 Class B and above misdemeanors," Hicks said, adding, "We need more people desperately."

To receive a basic peace officer certification, a candidate must attend an accredited police academy and complete a minimum of 618 hours by the time a candidate
graduates. "Most take over 1,000 hours," Hicks said.

Potential law enforcement officers must be at least 21 years old, and have a clear criminal history. "They also have to be able to pass an extensive background check and medical and psychological evaluations," Hicks said.

He added, "Graduating from an academy is not a promise of a job. A lot of people go through the academy and never become law enforcement officers."

As part of the BCSO application process, a panel of seven officers and administrators interview each prospective peace officer. "However," Hicks said, "Chief Deputy (Richard) Smith makes the final decision. His goal - and ours - is to get the best candidates to protect the community.

Our mission is to promote professionalism by accountability."

Making it difficult to get the cream of the academy's graduating crop is the fact that a law enforcement officer's starting salary in Bandera County is the lowest in the area - $33,000 to $34,000 per year, according to Hicks. "Deputies in Kendall and Kerr counties start at $40,000 per year," he said. "However, since the new (BCSO) administration started, we haven't lost anyone who didn't need to go."

Hicks attributed most of the deputies' longevity to a good benefit package and that "this is a good place to live." He continued, "We're here because we want to be. My personal goal is to be a part of a positive change for this county."

Pictured: Capt. James "Charlie" Hicks is in charge of administrative details surrounding the Bandera County Sheriff's Office. A 25-year law enforcement veteran, he spent 15 years as a narcotics investigator, including senior investigator for the 216th Judicial District Narcotics Task Force. He also served as chief deputy and interim Kerr County Sheriff. Hicks holds a master peace officer certification and joined the BCSO in late 2009.