by Robert Marlin
The Constitution of the State of Texas mandates only two types of peace officers. The first mandate is that one sheriff shall exist for each of the 254 counties in the state. The Sheriff’s jurisdiction is the geographic boundaries for the county in which elected. The second mandate establishes constables for every county. However, a county may have multiple constables, but only one per precinct. It is further mandated that the sheriff shall be elected by the voters of each county every four years. Constables are also elected every four years by the voters who reside within that particular precinct of the county. Once elected, that constable’s primary jurisdiction is the geographic boundaries of that precinct within the county. Expenses of the Sheriff’s Office and Constables are funded by local tax dollars, which are administered by the County Commissioners Court.
By statute, the sheriff’s duties include:
• Serves as a licensed peace officer and is responsible for enforcing
the criminal laws of the state
• Manages and operates the county jail
• Provides security for the courts
• Serves warrants and civil papers
• Regulates bail bondsmen in counties with no bail bond board.
In addition, the sheriff transports prisoners to local courts from throughout the United States, transports juvenile offenders and mental health detainees throughout Texas, rounds up stray livestock in the county and performs many other duties.
A constable’s duties, by statute, include:
• Serves as a licensed peace officer and performs various law enforcement functions, including issuing traffic citations
• Serves warrants and civil papers such as subpoenas and temporary restraining orders
• Serves as bailiff for Justice of the Peace Court.
Now, this brings up a frequently asked question: Are police departments different from the sheriff or the constables?
The answer is: they are similar, but different. Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, police officers, and constables and deputy constables are all peace officers licensed by the state of Texas and have certain powers of arrest throughout the state.
Most wear distinctive uniforms or badges, drive clearly marked patrol vehicles and often perform similar job functions, but there are several differences, too. Many of these differences involve:
• Their primary jurisdictional boundaries
• The primary funding source for their particular agency
• Distinct differences in their duties as designated by the Texas Legislature
A municipality may create and fund a police department but it is not required by law to do so. That is the primary distinction between a police department and a sheriff’s office. A county MUST have a sheriff’s office, and each precinct within a county must have a constable. But the villages, towns, cities and incorporated areas that constitute municipalities within a county do not have to have a police department.
If created, the police jurisdiction extends only within the boundaries of the municipality they serve. A chief of police is not elected. Either the municipality’s governing board or the city manager hires the chief of police and determines the length of their stay, as well as how many additional police officers to hire.
Police officers may enforce state criminal and traffic laws and local ordinances adopted within their jurisdiction. Police serve arrest warrants and as bailiff for the municipal court. Police are not required to keep a jail but may operate a municipal jail for housing misdemeanor violators or detainees awaiting transfer to the county jail. Police officers do not have responsibility for transporting prisoners, serving civil process, rounding up Estray animals or conducting many of the other duties designated to sheriffs.
Jurisdictional overlap occurs between county sheriff’s offices, municipal police departments and county constables, as well as with the state highway patrol and state park rangers and the federal law enforcement agencies. These state and federal agencies frequently cooperate but each may investigate a criminal matter that occurs within their jurisdiction.
As a professional organization, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office is run much like any other public agency. It is guided by its mission, vision and values. Those are clearly stated on the smithcountysheriff.com website:
It is the mission of the Smith County Sheriff’s Office to serve the citizens and visitors of Smith County by providing professional and ethical law enforcement, detention and court security that protects and preserves the Constitutional Rights of the people and mandates the fair and impartial enforcement of the law.
The vision for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office is to remain one of the safest and most enjoyable places to live, visit, work and raise a family in the State of Texas and in the nation. For the Smith County Sheriff’s Office to be a leader in public safety; this is achieved through innovation, technology and community partnerships. The Smith County Sheriff’s Office strives to integrate the concepts of community policing with the community and achieve their vision through collaborative problem solving.
The men and women of the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, pledge to instill their core values in every aspect of service to the Smith County community.
The core values are:
HONOR – Honor the mission entrusted to the Smith County Sheriff’s Office by preserving and protecting the citizens of Smith County and the public at large.
INTEGRITY – Pledge to maintain a strong sense of honesty, morality, goodness, and ethical character.
PROFESSIONALISM – Smith County Sheriff’s Office personnel are skilled in the performance of their duties and governed by the code of ethics that demands integrity by word or by act publicly and privately, the allegiance to our oath of office and the laws that govern our nation.
EXCELLENCE – Quality through continuous improvement.
FAIRNESS – Treat all people impartially, with consideration and compassion. The Smith County Sheriff’s Office is equally responsive to their employees and the community they serve.
TRUST – Value and nurture the trust earned through honesty and excellence in service. Pledge to treat those citizens of Smith County with courtesy, respect, dignity, and compassion to achieve that trust.
The dedicated individuals who choose to work as members of the Smith County Sheriff’s Office’s team do so because it places them in a position to make a difference; to make a positive contribution to the community in which they live. They certainly don’t expect to get rich working in county law enforcement. The average starting base pay for deputies in Smith County ranges from $39,501.00-$43,548.00. By comparison, the average starting base pay for elementary teachers in Tyler ISD is $43,494.00. The average recruit just beginning a career in county law enforcement first works in the jail. This beginning assignment typically lasts for two years and has a starting salary of just over $33,700.00.
To gain employment with the Sheriff’s Office, recruits must meet the minimum standards set by the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to qualify for licensure as a Detention Officer in Texas:
1. Citizen of the United States of America.
2. Earned a high school diploma or a GED.
3. Have never been convicted, pled guilty, nor have been on court- ordered community service/probation or deferred adjudication for a Class A misdemeanor or a felony.
4. During the last 10 years, have not been convicted, pled guilty, been on community service/probation or deferred adjudication for a Class
B misdemeanor in this state, other state, or while serving in the military.
5. Have never had a military court martial that resulted in a dishonorable
or bad conduct discharge.
6. Must possess a valid Texas Driver’s License at the time of hiring for the position.
7. Minimum age of 18.
Background Investigation: All candidates for full-time employment with the Sheriff’s Office undergo a comprehensive background investigation prior to being made a final offer. The investigation may include but is not limited to a records check, credit review, verification of credentials, and interviews with personal and professional references.
Required Testing: Candidates must take and pass a standardized aptitude test and polygraph. Officers must pass a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement test to be certified before completion of one year of employment or termination will occur.
Psychological Evaluation: To meet the minimum standards set by the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement (TCOLE) a Psychologist interviews and tests the candidate using various cognitive assessments. The Psychologist summarizes the clinical impressions and makes recommendations regarding the candidate’s overall psychological makeup and compatibility with the position.
Out of necessity, recruitment of new Jail Detention Officers has been added to the list of priority activities for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office. As of this writing, there are forty-one deputy positions available. “Because we are operating with fewer people than we need, we are in a situation that requires mandatory overtime for the Detention Officers we do have, which puts a strain on already stretched budgets,” says Smith. “As a manager, I have to develop a plan to recruit more people. Employee retention is something we have been working on for several years. The pool of potential employees comes in large part from recent high school graduates and our local junior colleges. The starting salaries we can offer must compete with the better offers and employment packages from the other employers in the market within and surrounding Smith County.”
With restricted budgets, it is necessary to recruit new employees by appealing to potential recruits whose primary motivation is not money. “Talk to any long timer in our organization, and you will likely find that what motivates them to stay on the job every day is the satisfaction derived from doing something they believe makes a difference,” Smith explains. “We are in the process of developing recruiting tools that includes a video with testimonial comments from some of our employees. We are also using social media to reach out to potential new employees. There are many ways to tell our story, and we are attempting to use as many resources as possible to reach these young people. We don’t want short timers. We provide experiences, opportunities and training programs that will make those we recruit more attractive to other agencies. We want to hire people who are qualified and who are motivated by doing a difficult and challenging job. We want to demonstrate that we can provide them with a lifetime career path, a satisfying career where they contribute to society and make a difference; not merely a job.”
Going to Jail Without Being Arrested
John Shoemaker has been working for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for eighteen years. As is true for the majority of people who begin their law enforcement careers at the Sheriff’s Office, Shoemaker started out in the jail. “I started as a jailer. To advance out of the jail, I applied for the Police Academy. There is a physical test and an academic test you must pass to get in. The thing is this: to be a peace officer, you must attend the academy; otherwise, you cannot go further in law enforcement,” Shoemaker explains. “What helped me, was going to the academy at the county’s expense. It was on-the-job-training, and when I completed it and became a certified Peace Officer, then I was able to advance to patrol. That is a typical path for advancement.”
After working in patrol, Shoemaker became a Criminal Investigator, which is the next usual step in the career advancement of a Sheriff’s Deputy. Following that, he returned to duty at the jail, but was promoted to Lieutenant, then Captain and now he is Chief Deputy of the Jail and Jail Administrator.
“In a sense, I came back to where I started,” Shoemaker says with a laugh. However, his current position is a big job; one he takes quite seriously. His primary duty is to make sure the everyday tasks in the jail are done, and done properly. There is a structure to running the jail facility safely and securely. It is Shoemaker’s responsibility to ensure that structure is implemented each day and that Smith County abides by the rules and regulations set by the Texas Jail Commission. “Ensuring our facility is in compliance with state regulations at all times is my biggest headache on the job.”
The two biggest challenges the Chief faces daily are staffing issues and keeping unruly inmates in line. “Every prisoner we have in the Smith County jail is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. We are a detention facility, not a correctional facility,” Shoemaker explains. On the day of the interview, there were a total of 1,082 inmates; 669 were pre-trial felons and 65 were charged with pre-trial misdemeanors. Due to state regulations, the Smith County jail can only house 1,138 inmates at a time. “Because of those regulations, we have to transport prisoners to out-of-county facilities. We currently have prisoners in Henderson and San Jacinto Counties. With the COVID-19 restrictions, any new prisoners are held in quarantine for the first ten days they are in our custody. They are placed in quarantine, and if they present no signs of COVID, then they are placed with the regular population. The quarantining of those incoming imates requires additional space within the jail housing,” Shoemaker says.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the jail instituted procedures that include all staff and inmates wearing masks throughout the jail facility. Immediately after a staff member has direct contact with an inmate, they sanitize themselves and the inmates. At this time, there are no known active cases of COVID-19 at the Smith County jail.
For many of the inmates, making bond is their biggest issue. They simply don’t have the funds, which means they stay in jail until their case is adjudicated in court. “Another issue, one that I am passionate about, is helping inmates who suffer from a mental health issue. There are many of those, and the biggest satisfaction I get out of this job is helping them get the help they need. Most of our inmates range in age between 17 and 55. The younger ones are the ones most likely not to come back. A short stay in jail scares them and they frequently straighten themselves out and we never see them again. The ones who come back the most, the repeat offenders, are usually the ones dealing with drug addiction. Most of our habitual offenders get off the drugs, and once released, those old habits come back and they end up back in our custody. What we need to help them is a good outreach program for drug addiction.”
Law Enforcement Operations
Chief Deputy Jimmy Jackson heads the Patrol Division and the Criminal Investigation Division, which is the primary Law Enforcement arm of the Sheriff’s Office. Chief Jackson is a thirty-year veteran in Law Enforcement. He retired as a lieutenant from the Texas Department of Public Safety, supervising highway patrol operations in six Northeast Texas counties. In this role, Jackson was responsible for managing 50-60 highway patrol troopers. He was recruited two and half years ago by Sheriff Smith and immediately assumed the role he holds now. “I chose to go into law enforcement right out of high school. My interest was to become a trooper with DPS. When I completed college, I went to work as a deputy in the jail in the late 80s. Then, I applied and was accepted into the program at DPS. I stayed there for twenty-five years. Now I’m back with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office,” Jackson explains.
He says the greatest challenge for the Patrol Division that he manages is handling the number of calls they receive. “From last year to this year, we had an increase somewhere between 300-400 criminal cases assigned to investigators. It’s challenging to meet that demand while also handling the regular workload the deputies who patrol Smith County have daily.” Patrol works out of the Emergency Operations Center located on Spur 248. It is comprised of approximately fifty-six deputies divided into shifts 24/7. There are eight to ten deputies on patrol at all times, twenty-four hours a day, spread throughout the county. When deputies are not responding to calls from citizens, they are patrolling the roads across Smith County, proactively looking for any criminal activity or citizens in need of help. “A lot of our time is devoted to traffic control … drivers abusing the speed limits or drivers who are driving recklessly while impaired. Many times, the criminal cases we file are a result of traffic stops wherein we determine the occupants of the vehicle are in possession of illicit drugs or have outstanding warrants.”
The patrol deputies are usually the first to arrive on the scene when a call comes in from the dispatcher. It is their job to assess the situation and take the appropriate action. There are basically two types of crimes: property crimes, which includes burglary or vandalism: and the second is person crimes, which are usually anything ranging from assault to homicide.
It is not unusual for deputies to receive 20-30 calls a night, a wide variety of reasons for these calls includes: car accidents, family disturbances, thefts, car burglaries and other criminal offenses. Most of the property crimes are for car burglaries. The majority of calls for crimes against persons are domestic disturbances, arguments between couples that get out of hand. The deputy is there to diffuse the situation. They avoid making an arrest unless it is obvious a citizen is in clear and present danger. One type of crime is no more important than another. All crimes are treated seriously by the deputies of the Sheriff’s Office who respond to the calls. Protecting the rights, liberties and property of all the citizens of Smith County is a priority for every deputy. “Everyone who works patrol is there to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Smith County,” Jackson says.
When a serious crime has been committed, the deputy on the scene will call in the Criminal Investigation Division and the Crime Scene Unit to investigate. While waiting for the crime scene unit to arrive, the deputy will secure the location and attempt to gather any evidence that will help the investigators.
If a deputy answers a call where someone is injured, they are trained to immediately administer first aid, to stabilize the injured person until medical help arrives. “Lives have been saved many times by the quick action taken by the deputy who arrives at the scene first. They have been crucial in giving aid to someone injured in a farming accident or administering CPR to a child who has fallen into a creek and nearly drowned.” In cases of a violent crime, such as walking in on a murder scene, the deputies will secure the scene to protect evidence from being disturbed and will then call in the criminal investigators who work in conjunction with the Crime Scene Unit.
The Criminal Investigation Division
Noel Martin Sr., is a Sergeant over the Crime Scene Unit. He is a thirty-two veteran in law enforcement who began his career as a deputy in Wood County in the mid-1980s. He has been working in Smith County for twenty-two years. “Law enforcement was not my first career choice. I needed a job, applied and was hired. Once I started, I found I liked it and decided to stay,” he says nonchalantly.
Martin is an unassuming man, with a meticulous nature that is well-suited for working in forensics. “I first got interested in forensic investigation in the mid-90s,” he says. “What piqued my interest was being able to identify unknown individuals with just physical evidence readily apparent; no witnesses to a crime. The best way to do that was
with fingerprints. I got really interested in fingerprints, then I branched off into other fields of forensic investigation: trace evidence and blood spatter analysis.”
Since beginning his study of forensics, Martin has become one of the state’s most respected and well-known experts in the fields of both fingerprint analysis and blood spatter analysis. He is frequently called in as an expert to consult other law enforcement agencies. He has also testified in hundreds of court cases. “I have never been disqualified as a witness in a field in which I am qualified as an expert. Members of our Crime Scene Unit team are called to testify frequently, probably more than the average detective. We are involved in every major case that goes on in Smith County.”
In court, the defense attorneys will usually challenge the credentials of expert witnesses. They use tactics such as questioning the chain of custody of evidence, to the methods used by the experts in determining the results of their analysis. “If we do our jobs correctly, our opinions are allowed into testimony. That is why we are prone to handle evidence with meticulous care to ensure the integrity of the evidence. The conclusions we reach upon analysis are based on sound and accepted scientific principles that have been proven to be accurate time and time again. Our testimony is based on the scientific findings, not just our opinion. It is then up to the jury to determine the accuracy of our findings from a legal standpoint,” Martin says.
For its size, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office is extremely well-equipped. In addition to Martin, the Crime Scene Unit is comprised of three other Criminalist: Travis Breazeale, Lauren Fite and Emily Graham. Their equipment includes mobile units equipped with onboard labs and everything needed to thoroughly process a crime scene. Evidence that cracks a case can be found in not just fingerprints but also in fibers collected at the scene; minute amounts of DNA found on items touched by a perpetrator; shell casings left at a scene; and hundreds of other miniscule items that the detectives collect as clues. Fingerprints are run through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), that is a searchable database that contains the prints of anybody who has been fingerprinted. It is extremely helpful in identifying a suspect. The same process is used to identify a suspect with DNA.
“Our success rate in identifying a suspect with fingerprints is very good, above 50%. If the suspect’s prints are in the system, we are successful nearly 100% of the time. If we match a suspect with DNA, our success rate is 100%. On the whole, we do pretty well in catching the perpetrator of the crime,” Martin says.
The Smith County Crime Scene Unit also cooperates with other agencies who send their evidence to the Texas Department of Public Saftey Lab in Tyler for processing. Our Crime Lab at the Sheriff’s Office has several pieces of high-tech equipment used in forensic analysis. That includes environmentally controlled super glue chambers that can identity the composition of substances found at a crime scene; forensic lasers that can extract fingerprints from spent bullet casings; alternate light sources can be used to identify physiological fluids or enhance visualization of evidence not seen by the naked eye; photographic processes can be used in analysis and also to make a record of the crime scene for use later.
Sheriff Smith’s Commitment to Smith County
“We are extremely fortunate in Smith County to have a community of citizens who are, for the most part, supportive of the service we give our community,” says Sheriff Smith. “Morale within our departmen on the whole is high, as always. The negative attitudes expressed in other parts of the country last summer never took hold here. When people in our community wanted to demonstrate, we offered our support and our protection. We made it clear that we supported the right of Smith County citizens to protest, peacefully. We went to the square to ensure the safety of the protestors. At the same time, we had a dialogue with the various groups of citizens, making it clear that the violence that took place in other parts of the country would not be tolerated here. I think it is the openness we have with every segment of our community that helped prevent the kind of negativity that has grown in other parts of the country. It is that transparency, that willingness to speak together openly, to agree to disagree with mutual respect—that is what ensured the safety of both the protestors and of the property in downtown Tyler. The transparency with which we approached the situation is the proper route for affecting change in a community. I am proud of the way our deputies have responded to every group in our community. I want to assure every citizen of Smith County, that as your Sheriff, I am dedicated to maintaining an open dialogue at all times. The best way to avoid a confrontation is to discuss things together in the spirit of open and free debate with every segment of our community, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. We are a faith-based community, filled with citizens who respect the rights of others. Your Sheriff’s Office will continue to serve this community with respect, always keeping our mission clear: to protect the rights, safety and well-being of the citizens of Smith County.”