I was sitting last week with Texas County Sheriff James Sigman as he shared statistical information with me about his department’s caseload in 2014.

Not surprisingly, numbers were substantially up from 2013 – across the board. Regardless of the reason or reasons why, deputies handled more cases in pretty much every possible category, with theft and assault topping the list (again, not surprisingly).

And while the sheriff’s department’s caseload went way up last year, the number of officers on Sigman’s roster was the same as in 2013, so it’s the old “more work, same manpower” situation that so many law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are dealing with because of the oil-and-water-like combination of societal trends and budget constraints.

You don’t even have to look outside the boundaries of Texas County to find three more agencies hampered by that combination, as the police departments in Houston, Licking and Cabool are all up (again) in caseload numbers, but not up in officer rolls.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Anyway, that’s just how it is in early 2015. There’s no arguing that business is booming in the “busting business” (as an officer I knew once called it), but there’s little relief in sight for the men and women taking care of business.

But aside from the unfortunate reality that budgets and busts are following differing paths, there’s another aspect of law enforcement that always gets my attention. While I sit and talk about statistics, trends or specific cases with the likes of Sigman, his counterpart with the Houston Police Department, Chief Jim McNiell, or any other member of the badge-wearing, gun toting community, I can never avoid being touched by a certain grim reality hovering over the lives they live: You just never know.

Officers of the law have always lived a 24/7 existence of uncertain destiny, never being 100-percent sure what’s going to take place when they pull over a truck or knock on a door.

But that’s true now more than ever, and as Sigman himself said, they’re even increasingly becoming “targets.”

On a weekly basis, I read dozens of incident reports generated by law officers in the community, and it boggles my mind every time I ponder the possibilities. The bottom line is, they really do continuously set foot in a myriad of situations presenting potential for major problems.

Sure, many of the calls they respond to are just plain silly (and it’s hard to imagine someone called the law about it), but no matter the issue, there’s simply always a you-never-know factor involved.

But it’s impossible to know beyond doubt exactly what or who will be on the other side when an officer knocks on the door of a rundown cabin at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a forest at 2 a.m. on a pitch-dark overcast night.

And how can an officer be sure that when he or she chases a suspect into a wooded area that the suspect won’t suddenly stop, turn and fire a .38 special?

And if a guy has been busted four times in the last two years and has vowed there won’t be a fifth, it’s possible that an officer who pulls him over for a tail light being out on his 1985 Chevy pickup might be in for a big surprise.

Even if it’s only the same two unfriendly trailer park neighbors having yet another heated discussion over a barking dog, there’s always a chance one is going to possess a weapon and the responding officer – for no valid reason – will suddenly find himself on the business end of it.

Sigman and I have talked about how it’s inevitable that at some point in Missouri’s largest geographical county, an officer is going to give someone a command three times to “drop that gun,” but the person isn’t going to comply and is instead going to pull the trigger. Then it could be a matter of whose time is up, the officer’s or the gunman’s.

And whether the law officer is wearing a police uniform or that of a deputy won’t matter, because bullets don’t play favorites.

Anyway, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: For what they do, law enforcement officers are deserving of all the recognition, praise and thanks they get (and more), especially those who get out in the field and mingle with an increasingly volatile and unpredictable public. As Sigman, McNiell, and all of the counterparts would surely agree, law officers are, for the most part, in sort of a thankless line of work.

For the most part, maybe, but not entirely. To all of you: Thank you for all you do.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Law enforcement leaders of Texas County – Sheriff James Sigman, left, and Police Chief Jim McNiell.

Law enforcement leaders of Texas County – Sheriff James Sigman, left, and Police Chief Jim McNiell.

 

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By Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Sheriff Carl Watson and the rest of the group at the Texas County Sheriff’s Department are more used to hearing negative comments about what they do than those of the positive variety.

But now and then someone appreciates their efforts enough to say so.

Such was the case twice last week, as the TCSD received letters of praise from two different law enforcement agencies that were also involved in recent cases.

The Ozark County Sheriff’s Department sent a letter written and signed by Sheriff Raymond Pace and also signed by Chief Deputy Darrin Reed thanking the TCSD for its role in apprehending murder suspect Marty Overby. Overby was wanted for a homicide that had occurred in Ozark County in September and was found in the southern end of Texas County after several tries looking for him.

Included in the letter were the lines “I contacted Sheriff Carl Watson for his assistance and they dropped everything they were doing to assist our deputies. I know Sheriff Carl Watson and his deputies worked hard and long hours to help on this investigation. If not for their help this case wouldn’t have moved as quickly as it did. It was a pleasure to work with such a professional and dedicated department. The citizens of Texas County should be proud to have a sheriff’s department with such dedication.”

The TCSD’s pat-on-the-back week also featured a letter of appreciation written and signed by Houston Police Chief Jim McNiell regarding two separate burglary incidents that occurred at Farris Sales and Service in Houston on Oct. 24 and 31. As a result of the combined efforts of the two agencies, Jason Micheal Averett, 33, of Houston, has been charged with four Class C felonies and the stolen equipment, valued at $3,840.52, was recovered and returned to owner Chuck Lee.

McNiell’s letter expressed “heartfelt thanks” to TCSD deputies Mike Huffman, Phil Viscioni and Dusty Jones for their roles in the investigation and went on to say “I appreciate the excellent working relationship between our two departments.”

In his usual understated style, Watson said the kind words were gratifying.

“It’s always nice to hear something positive about what you do,” he said.

No doubt.

In Watson’s line of work, people with a bone to pick will most often be quick to make it known while satisfied customers exercise their right to remain silent.

That’s human nature and it comes with the territory so it’s expected. But getting an atta-boy once in while never hurts.

Way to go TCSD.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. E-mail him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

By Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Friday, Sept. 17 marked the third anniversary of the day Tasers came to the forefront of societal attention in the United States.

On that day, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry addressed a Constitution Day forum at the University of Florida, which was organized by a branch of the university’s student government. While taking his turn during a question-and-answer period following Kerry’s speech, 21-year-old student Andrew Meyer fired off a series of questions that event organizers didn’t care for. The microphone was switched off and Meyer was subsequently removed from the building by university police.

During the struggle to arrest Meyer, one of the officers stunned him with a Taser.
Meyer then repeatedly yelled out the now familiar phrase, “don’t tase me bro!”

The online encyclopedia Wickipedia defines the Taser as “an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles.” Its manufacturer, Taser International out of Scottsdale, Ariz., calls the effects of the device’s 50,000 volt, five-second shock “neuromuscular incapacitation” and labels its mechanism as Electro-Muscular Disruption (EMD) technology.

While the infamous incident involving Meyer became one of 2007’s most viewed posts on YouTube and even inspired songs by the Clash, Devo and rapper MC Lars, few people will ever know the feeling he experienced when he was “tased.”

But lots of law enforcement officers do, including many at the Texas County Sherrif’s Department.

As part of a training course required prior to being issued a Taser, officers must endure the horror one delivers. Lt. Melissa Dunn of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department found out what it’s like about four years ago.

“It’s the worst pain I’ve had in my life,” Dunn said.

Interestingly, residual pain from a Taser shot is all but nonexistent.

“When it’s over, it’s over,” Dunn said.

The sheriff department’s chosen Taser model is the X26. It functions by using a replaceable cartridge containing compressed nitrogen to deploy two small probes that are attached by insulated conductive wires with a maximum length of 35 feet. The X26’s electrical pulses are transmitted along the wires and into the body affecting the sensory and motor functions of the peripheral nervous system.

Taser cartridges cost $26 apiece, but a sheriff’s deputy’s uniform goes for even more, with pants running $36 a pop.

But the sheriff’s department has saved some money in the area of attire since Tasers joined the force, as not a single item of uniform clothing has had to be replaced due to damage from a scuffle between an officer and an unhappy member of the public.

Tasers come in summer and winter models, too. Winter versions have longer prongs designed to penetrate thicker layers of clothes. Not only that, they’re available in an animal-stopping model as well.

Doug Davison joined the Houston Herald in September as a writer, copy editor and general office worker. He’s been assigned the crime beat and through this blog, will share the most interesting, intriguing and sometimes funny stories he discovers weekly at the Texas County Justice Center. You can contact Doug at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

At a price of a dollar or less, a box of Cra-Z-Art brand markers is an item commonly used in an elementary school classroom. But the product was used in a far less common manner last week when several units in a box were employed in a attempt to smuggle smoking supplies to an inmate at the Texas County Jail.

By Doug Davison, Houston Herald

When Erin Jarman recently attempted to smuggle tobacco and rolling papers into the Texas County Jail so inmate Chad Yates might somehow get a chance to roll his own, the 29-year-old Houston woman was showing some relatively serious creativity.

Who knew a box of Cra-Z-Art markers – a staple on any second-grader’s list of back-to-school needs – could be transformed into a means of helping someone “on the inside” maintain a nicotine habit formed “on the outside?”

Think about it: the guts of color markers replaced by smoking supplies. Kind of makes one wonder whether the list of things to be watched out for by airport security needs to be expanded.
If markers can be filled with Phillip Morris’ finest, why couldn’t they be used in far more sinister fashion? Could they not be packed with plastic explosives? Could they even be fitted with retractable blades?

No intent here to offer up ideas to Al-Qaeda operatives (they don’t seem to need any help, anyway), but maybe this is a can of worms that would best remain sealed.

Doug Davison joined the Houston Herald in September as a writer, copy editor and general office worker. He’s been assigned the crime beat and through this blog, will share the most interesting, intriguing and sometimes funny stories he discovers weekly at the Texas County Justice Center. You can contact Doug at ddavison@houstonherald.com.