BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – In this week’s episode of Big Country Politics, News Director Manny Diaz had a conversation with Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop about school safety, jail improvements, and a new campaign to assist those with livestock.

With kids going back to school, it can be exciting, but school safety is on the mind for many people. House Bill Three will dedicate new funds for districts to improve physical barriers, security and technology. It also will require that every district has an armed guard on every campus and allow the state more oversight responsibility for safety protocol compliance.

“We’ve been doing school safety for a long time. This is based out of what happened in Uvalde. And even before Uvalde happened, we’ve been working with our school districts to make sure that they were safe and doing active shooter drills in the schools all last summer,” Bishop explained.

Various schools around the Big Country have worked with law enforcement to practice drills, enhance safety protocols, and more.

“This summer, we worked with Jim Ned ISD on all three of their campuses and included the Highway Patrol and all the school marshals in that district to participate in active shooter drills with all of our officers and our Rangemaster. Our Rangemaster is actually the one that teaches the majority of the school marshal programs for the state of Texas. So we’ve got a vested interest in it; everybody does,” Bishop added. “We’re doing our best to keep all the schools safe in the county, and there’s multiple plans in place. And we’ve worked with the schools on how to best secure these doors and put keys in certain areas where we can have access to in case something was to happen. We can go straight to those areas and get to know who their school marshals are and keep everybody safe as possible.”

Bishop stated that while schools are generally secure, there is a threat of malfunction due to doors being left propped open or other similar factors.

“Based on what we’ve seen so far, things are secure, you know, you’re always going to have some a malfunction somewhere or, you know, somebody leaves a door propped open with a rock where they shouldn’t or that sort of thing, but I know that Jim Ned ISD had a secure, Merkel is secure. We actually did a training exercise with Merkel PD earlier this year. I think it was in February of a large joint exercise with multiple agencies. And that identified some things that needed to change. And to my knowledge, all that’s been changed. They have their own school marshal or school resource officer, along with school marshals and guardians there. So Merkel PD handling their district, and then with Trent, we work with them as much as you can to make sure they’ve got things squared away themselves,” Bishop said.

The Guardian Program aids in the training of school personnel to carry a handgun for protection, something that Bishop shared has received positive feedback.

“For most schools around here, we’ve been doing it for years, we’ve had SROs, and in the county, for I think 15 years now, ten to 15 years. And I know that when the Guardian program came out the school marshal program, I’m just about every district in the county, sent someone and got someone qualified to do that. So this is really nothing new. There’s just some other regulations that the schools have to do with the state filing paperwork, making sure certain things are done a certain way,” Bishop said. “Everyone wants, would rather have a police officer in their school, they’d rather have a deputy or a police officer, just because command presence, that uniform is standing there. And when people see that, sometimes they act right, sometimes they don’t, but it’s the presence, and that’s what everybody would prefer to see. And I’d much rather put a uniformed officer on every campus, but with budgets and trying to get manpower, it’s not feasible in some counties, and having guardians and school marshals helps alleviate some of that until we can either get that done and working in conjunction with each other.”

He shared that it can be challenging to add more resource officers due to budgets this year.

“To add more? It’s a challenge because the budget is so tight this year that all new positions that I asked for were cut out of the budget completely. And I still have two school resource officers. Ideally, I need five or six more so I can have one on every single campus. But right now, we’ve got them floating between campuses. Because, Wow, just not counting Merkel. I’ve got six campuses that we have to cover in the county,” Bishop explained.

He also shared some new things that have come to law enforcement, such as a salary increase and new software.

“We’ve got a lot of things that we’ve done. There’s a lot of things I still want to do. You know, we finally moved the sheriff’s office into the 21st century with computers. All patrol cars were outfitted with computers just a few months ago; we’re waiting on the software to finish being built. But the computers are there. You know, we’ve increased salaries. When I first took office and 2013. The starting salary is $25,000 a year. If things go well, this budget, the starting salary for a deputy is going to be $53,500. And a jailer is going to be $49,500. We’re a lot closer to where we need to be. We’ve still got some more room there,” Bishop said. “We still need to add more employees. We still need to just keep improving. And to protect the citizens of the county. I’ve still got a lot of things to do. I think we’ve made a lot of headway. All the employees I’ve talked to over the last several months because I talked to all of them about the budget. I have meetings with the jail, and I catch employees doing their briefings and inform them on the budget.

He also shared how morale is in the workplace, as well as an issue that he wants to address.

“Ask them about morale; how’s things going? Right now, everybody’s morale. They tell me they say this is fine. The only part of the morale they’re frustrated with is things that come out of budget in the commissioner’s court. That’s where that’s where they’re telling me they’re only frustrations are though, you know, you’ve got that select View. You can’t always make everybody happy, but we’re doing the best we believe we can do for the Sheriff’s Office,” Bishop explained.

He added that one of the biggest dilemmas they are facing right now is a staff shortage.

“The biggest dilemma is probably the manpower, just having enough people to patrol the county. I’ve got 36 patrolmen for 920 square miles, and I actually need about 16 more. Several years, we’ve been ‘cut it’ budget on those new positions, but you know, we’re the counties, the growth is not slowing down. Even even with inflation the way it is. There’s still houses being built, and we still got a lot of people moving into the county. But that’s probably the biggest thing. We are stretched a little bit thinner right now because Merkel PD is short-staffed. They only have three officers: one works in the school, and two working patrol. And so when they’re not on duty, we’re having to cover the entire city of Merkel. Right now, it’s at nights and weekends,” Bishop shared.

At the end of July, Bishop shared how the jail is moving from a pen-and-paper system to an all-electronic system when it comes to tracking inmates. He said that this has created smoother operations within the jail.

“So the last inmate that escaped, it had nothing to do with tracking. It was just the fact that we had an officer that opened the wrong door and didn’t follow up on what he did until an hour later. And so that’s why that inmate escaped. We investigated it, we changed some procedures, and then that officer is no longer working for us. This is a tracking system that, even when I worked in the jail, it was talked about that there wasn’t any system that would actually work the way you wanted it to. So we have to do sale checks every hour check on all the inmates. So that’s been in paper right now, then in papers easy to lack a better word, you can lie on pen and paper, you can falsify a government document,” Bishop explained. “With this system, you cannot do that. So if an officer is late for checking on his inmates for that hour, though, the alarm will sound that you need to go check on your inmates. And then, if he doesn’t acknowledge that alarm, another alarm will sound with him and his supervisors; you need to go check on these people. And so it’s gonna be some heavy reminders.”

He mentioned that this system assists in maintaining better records of prisoners.

And for people do what they need to plus, you know, anytime an inmate needs some medication, over-the-counter medication, we can scan their armband show when they got it. So they’re not getting Tylenol every two hours, they’re getting it every four to six hours like they should, and that sort of thing. And we can also scan when they go out for rec because they have to have several hours of sunlight every week. So we’ll be able to scan for that and keep better documentation. Because right now, whenever the Commission on Jail Standards wants to do an inspection, we send them stacks of paperwork for them to review, where now we’ll be able to just send them an electronic file so they can review it,” Bishop said.

Bishop and others are working to launch a campaign in the area regarding loose livestock and fence damage.

“So myself, my chief deputy, attended a school conference. And they’ve actually been doing this in South Texas in Jim Wells County. And this is an example of what we’re looking at doing. But we have a form here that we need to collect information from our citizens, and we’re gonna keep this information private. It’s only going to be given to the sheriff’s office personnel. But I have a form for everyone to fill out with the ranch name, the ranch owner any contact information, the address of the ranch, the locations, the total number of livestock, they have to the type of livestock, they have any brands, ear tags, identifying marks, Bishop shared. “And when they fill out this form, this is no cost to the public; we will assign them a number, and that number will stay with that citizen forever, as long as they own livestock and property. And then if somebody runs through their fans to cattle or out, if the public sees it or even a deputy comes by, they just call back into dispatch with this tag number. And then, we can contact the owner about their cattle or fence being damaged if somebody has a wreck. Then, not only can that number be used for that, but they can use it to put on any of their equipment. Lawnmowers to to tractors, hay balers, whatever they need to as an identifying mark to show this belongs to me in case it comes up missing or stolen for for whatever reason.”

To learn more about this resource, you can call law enforcement at (325) 674-1300.