Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau delivered her third State of the Sheriff’s Office address to the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce on Friday. This is a big year for the agency, which is completing its first permanent Bexar County Sheriff’s Office substations.
The sheriff’s office will release a video visitation and re-entry center to the public later this year. The county is also planning a multi-phase $32 million project to develop new program-based housing and renovate space at the Adult Detention Center on Comal Street.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the sheriff’s office, which is literally and figuratively expanding to meet increased service demands from a growing population.
Pamerleau, now in her fourth year on the job, outlined recent and upcoming construction projects, and upgrades in technology and programs. More than 200 people were present for the Chamber’s luncheon event at Sunset Station, including dozens of sheriff’s deputies, and elected representatives such as Precinct 3 County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, and City Council members Alan Warrick (D2) and Joe Krier (D9). She enters a re-election year where she is the lone Republican in the spring primary season. Four Democrats are vying to face Pamerleau in the November general election: former Deputy Charles Cervantes, former detention center officer Mathews Ninan, Javier Salazar, former San Antonio Police Department spokesman, and Andy Lopez, a former sheriff’s office employee.
Luncheon attendees received a booklet containing an annual report of sorts regarding what has happened in the past year at the sheriff’s office and what lies ahead. Pamerleau said the report reflects a reaffirmed commitment to transparency and communication with the community from the agency.
“The number one responsibility in government is ensuring the security and safety of its citizens and that’s my top priority,” said Pamerleau, a former Air Force major general and USAA executive.
The rapidly growing county population led Pamerleau to bolster the sheriff’s office ranks and to increase the level of professionalism among uniformed and civilian personnel. Within the last three years, the agency has added 78 full-time and 14 part-time deputies. The sheriff’s office now employs nearly 1,900 people and wields a $135 million budget.
Pamerleau said that employees in the detention division have worked toward professional designation from the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association, and that 21 of its captains and lieutenants have attended advanced leadership seminars. The raised the level of professionalism among the agency employees is just one way the Sheriff’s Office is keeping pace with Bexar County’s growing population, which numbers at 1.8 million.
“In 2015, our deputies responded to more than 105,000 calls for service. That’s up from 95,000 in 2014, and up from 87,000 in 2013. That’s around a 30% increase over the past three years,” she said.
Pamerleau added that as the need for service has increased, the county and the sheriff’s office have sought to be proactive by serving specific segments of the county more efficiently with new substations that, for the first time in county history, are designed purely for permanent sheriff’s office functions.
County-owned land was designated in west Bexar County for a substation near Loop 1604 and Cagnon Road, and land near Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph was bought for another substation, off 1604 and Rocket Lane. Early in 2015, the county leased a facility near Lockhill-Selma Road and 1604 as an interim substation. That facility now is home to the sheriff’s office Special Crimes Unit, and serves the four northernmost patrol districts.
The interim substation is near where Bexar Metro 911 Network District is building its $40 million, 81,500-square-foot center, which the agency hopes to move into by October. Pamerleau said the interim substation has made an impact, especially with the Special Crimes Unit housed there.
“As a result, we’ve reduced response time for emergency calls countywide by over 20% and we’ve saved taxpayers over $300,000 at the same time. That’s just the beginning before the (permanent) substations are built,” she added.
This will be the first permanent patrol station for the sheriff’s office, which has operated out of temporary trailers on the far Southside of the county for nearly four years. The sheriff’s academy also operates out of temporary trailers. Pamerleau said she anticipates her department moving the academy into more adequate, leased space sometime this year. She said the move is “huge news” for taxpayers and deputies, who can improve efficiency working from permanent, strategically located substations.
The sheriff also detailed reconfiguration plans for the detention center on Comal Street, adding an emphasis on effective incarceration and helping detainees to ready themselves adequately for release into society.
“We’re building a 512-bed, program-based housing unit that will integrate housing with classrooms. It will be mission-driven with an emphasis on veterans, vocational programs, job skills and job preparation, and faith-based,” she said. “This type of approach is evidence-based, showing better outcomes and recidivism rates overall.”
Additionally, the County is renovating a building on the Eastside to make way for a 140-bed work-release center, Pamerleau said, which “doubles the capacity for work-release.” This will also help individuals to successfully transition back into the community. Security for the perimeter of the work-release center will be upgraded to increase safety for the immediate neighborhood and for the sheriff’s office to be “better neighbors in Precinct 2,” she said.
Following further reconfiguration of space for other sheriff’s office functions at the Adult Detention Center, the County would be able to demolish the old Laredo Street jail before the end of this decade.
“That will make way for much-needed downtown development,” Pamerleau said. She added the new Video Visitation and Re-Entry Center will be completed in a few months. Pamerleau said the latter facility is a more effective use of technology and will reduce wait times for visiting family members.
The integration of technology remains a top priority for the department, Pamerleau said. Last year, the Commissioners Court approved the purchase of body cameras for all patrol and warrants deputies, and in-car dash cameras for all patrol vehicles.
“We know (cameras) bring value to the community,” she added. Equipment has been shipped, Pamerleau said, and her department expects to field test it this spring and early summer, along with implementing related training. This summer, the sheriff’s office is also launching an all-encompassing personnel software system, which will improve accuracy in record-keeping and reduce financial overhead, which will help deploy civilian and uniformed employees where they are needed.
Pamerleau mentioned an app that the sheriff’s office launched an app earlier in 2015, which allows people to submit tips with photos. In less than six months since the launch, more than 6,000 people have downloaded the app.
“The important thing is we get up to three tips a day that help us solve crime, (and) be where we need to be in the community,” she added. The sheriff’s office is also scuttling its paper- and DOS-based programs for incident reporting and pay and personnel law enforcement records management system. Once implemented, the system will permit records to be generated and accessed online.
“It’ll be easier to connect the dots and solve crimes faster,” said Pamerleau. She finally highlighted the sheriff’s office’s Mental Health Unit where deputies are charged with having a range of experience and skills to help channel individuals suffering from mental illness to mental health providers. The Mental Health Unit has been recognized nationally for its efforts to help such individuals.
Pamerleau said her department is partnering with organization such as University Health System and the Center for Health Care Services, which helps individuals with mental illness and substance abuse issues to find the help they need, faster.
“So, by identifying mental illness among first-time offenders, the answer may be treatment rather than jail,” she added.
*Top Image: Jack Farmer from OnPoint Solutions shakes hands with Sheriff Pamerleau. Photo by Scott Ball.