Men's Breakfast Report, July 2013
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, July 13th with Dan Pennington, new Freeport Police Chief. Dan was raised in Texas and never had any ambition to go into law enforcement. He was planning to get married after high school and realized that a job of stocker at a grocery store would not support a family. He saw a billboard advertising that the Houston police department was recruiting new officers and decided to apply. The application took about a year with interviews and background checks. Meanwhile he was going to college and applied to the Pasadena police department which was also hiring. The Pasadena police department process was faster so acceptance and admission to the police academy for both departments arrived on the same day. He accepted the Pasadena appointment. He remained with the Pasadena department for over twenty years and moved up the ranks while going to college. He got a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA and has had other training in criminal justice including FBI training at Quantico. When the police chief position opened up here he applied and was hired. He still lives in Pasadena and commutes because his wife teaches and his children attend school there.
The Freeport police department has thirty-two officers plus six unpaid reserve officers. Reserve officers must work sixteen hours per month to maintain their status. There are also sixteen non-officer employees. Dan thinks of this as a small department as compared to Pasadena with over 200 officers or Houston with over 2000 officers. However, the median department in the country has less than fifteen officers, so the department is not particularly small. The department is not under civil service rules. Civil service rules prevent political interference with administration of justice and hiring but make it more difficult to administer the department and discipline officers.
Since Dan has been here he has gone through the budget process. He said that the department has received what it needs and a few items that it wants. Over eighty percent of its expenses are salaries with most of the rest capital expenses such as vehicles and radios. The radios and communication systems need to be upgraded to meet new Federal requirements. He has also updated procedures and job expectations, and made them more explicit. He has consolidated the evidence storage into a single room.
A big change from the Pasadena department is the greater ease in cooperating with other county agencies. He talks about meeting weekly with Jeri Yenne, the District Attorney, and has good cooperation with her. He said that relations with the Harris County District Attorney were almost adversarial. There is also good cooperation with other police departments. One request he received was to send an officer to the Surfside council meeting. Dan thought that this would not be a good idea, but did have a patrol car stay near the border between the towns so Surfside could call for backup if things got out of hand.
Dan talked about animal control. There are two animal control officers, one full time and one half time. Animal control picks up all kinds of animals; once they even picked up a cow. Dogs are the most common animal picked up. The primary officer really loves animals. She manages to find homes for most of the animals she picks up. She has avoided taking pit bulls to the SPCA shelter because she believed they had a policy of euthanizing pit bulls. Tony Barnard, who is on the board of the SPCA, said that the SPCA no longer has this policy. The department has a pit bull that will be difficult to place since it is blind, hard of hearing and has a broken leg. The tethering law was also discussed. The animal control officer has talked with several people to persuade them to properly confine their dogs. She has also had to rescue some dogs that were tethered without proper access to food, water or shelter.
The new camera system was described. The system is paid for with a Federal grant. So far there are three cameras set up at entrances to the city. More will be set up with future phases of the program. The cameras are connected to the system and the dispatch office wirelessly. The system is set up to recognize license plate numbers and check them in various databases. It will then notify the dispatch if there is a match and what the car is wanted for. Already it has caught a stolen car coming into Freeport. This was considered unusual since most stolen cars leave the city. The police stopped the car and arrested the driver on outstanding warrants. Dan said that often a car is reported as stolen and the owner recovers it without telling the police. The owner discovers his mistake when he is pulled over put on the ground and handcuffed. The owner is released once he shows that it is really his car, but he still has to suffer the indignity.
The men had an enjoyable discussion and a good breakfast. The next meeting will be August 10th.