Men's Breakfast, May 14, 2016

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, May 14th with Dan Pennington, Freeport Police Chief.  Dan was raised in Houston.  He was working in a grocery store when he got married and decided that he needed a better paying job.  He saw a billboard advertising police jobs and applied to the Houston Police department.  While his application as wending its way through the Houston bureaucracy, a friend suggested that he apply to the Pasadena police department.  Pasadena responded much faster and Dan received offers from Houston and Pasadena on the same day.  He chose Pasadena because it paid $1500 more per year.  He rose through the ranks and eventually accepted the position of Freeport police chief.  He still lives in Pasadena where his wife is a teacher and head of the department of commercial studies in the Pasadena school district. 

The Freeport police department has fifty-five employees, including five unpaid reserve officers.  It now has all positions filled.  Freeport has the reputation, outside of Freeport, of being a high crime area.  However, its crime rate is comparable to other cities in Brazosport.  The crime rate fell about forty percent in the last year.  The reason is not clear and it may partially be a statistical fluke. 

The major activity of the department is patrol and traffic stops.  Dan said that police very rarely come into a murder or robbery in practice.  However, the culprit is often caught by patrol when leaving the scene.  A major help in this is the license plate readers at entrances to the city.  These, along with surveillance cameras at businesses, often lead to identification of suspects.  The cameras now only are capable of reading plates of cars entering the city.  Dan has applied for a grant from Homeland Security for additional cameras so that licenses can be read of cars entering or leaving the city.  This will make it easier to catch criminals committing crimes in the city. 

Various types of situations were discussed.  One common problem is domestic violence.  Police are now required to arrest an abuser whenever a domestic violence call is made.  Previously, police would not be able to make an arrest because the abused would refuse to press charges when the officer arrived. Sometimes, many calls would be made until the abuser killed or badly injured the spouse.  By making arrests, abusers are restrained form abusing their spouses.  This has led to a reduction in the number of abuse calls. 

Another topic was civil forfeiture.  Civil forfeiture is normally associated with drug dealers but can be used with any felony charge such as fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle. There have been several scandals in other jurisdictions where cops have used forfeiture laws to shake down people, especially minorities traveling through their jurisdiction.  Dan said this is not a problem in Freeport.  He has had about $27,000 per year in forfeitures compared to a four million dollar budget.  The main restriction is that District Attorney Jerri Yenne is very discriminating in allowing forfeiture.  She may not allow seizure of a car that not only fled apprehension, but one of the culprits shot at the pursuing vehicle.  This may not be a great loss to the department because none of the bullets hit the pursuing vehicle but several hit the culprits’ own car. 

Drugs are another police problem.  Opiates have been in the news recently because of the large number of overdose cases and deaths.  People start on pain pills prescribed by doctors and then transition to heroin when they can no longer get the prescription opiates they need.  Dan said that this has not been a problem locally but is primarily a problem in the Northeast and Midwest.  However, here the problem is synthetic marijuana.  The problem is that the chemicals have not been declared illegal by the legislature because the legislature meets only every two years.  One brand of synthetic marijuana was even called “Legal”.  Dan has shut down some retailers by telling them that these drugs are not legal and they must stop selling them.  Even so local people have died from the synthetic marijuana

Dan was asked about open carry of firearms.  He said that it is a big ado about nothing.  He has not seen a significant amount of open carry.  He says that he is in favor of open carry.  He says that a robber coming into an establishment will first shoot the people openly carrying, giving him time to react to the situation and get out his gun. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will by Saturday, June 11th.