HCSO staffing shortage

Current staff fielding traffic complaints

When the Hays County Sheriff’s Office took to social media to publicize a new email address for traffic complaints, they expected to get reports of speeders and the like.

Instead, motorists took the opportunity to complain about things county law enforcement has nothing to do with.

“One guy wanted us to change the timing of the traffic lights on 290. He was tired of stopping at all the red lights,” recalled Lt. Dennis Gutierrez.

That prompted a clarification. “The Sheriff’s Office does not play any role in design or implementation of traffic control devices,” the more recent post reads. The HCSO went on to list a url for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the agency that does have a say in such matters.

The department is still accepting complaints through the special email (traffic-concerns@co.hays.tx.us). They have also clarified which types of complaints the HCSO can actually address. The county has jurisdiction over roads that are not within an incorporated/city boundary, that do not have a designation like FM (Farm to Marker), RR (Ranch Road), RM (Ranch to Market), LP (Loop), IH (Interstate Highway) or SH (State Highway), is not privately maintained, and is in a subdivision that has met county road standards.

Underlying the outreach for more public input, however, is a lack of available manpower on the part of the department – something Gutierrez said is on the cusp of turning around as the training pipeline is about to deliver a dozen new deputies.

“What’s happening now, is for the first time ever we have maxed out,” Gutierrez said. Deputies previously assigned to traffic have been moved to patrol. Patrol deputies are the department’s front line when it comes to answering calls and writing reports. Some deputies even had to be pulled from specialty units like Mental Health at a time when concerns over those issues are at the forefront of much public discussion.

“We’re now finding with our academies, people are coming off training and we are slowly taking back those slots” and returning specialty officers to their former positions.

Gutierrez admitted that a Facebook post seeming to blame the media for the lack of applicants was badly worded. The post read that the HCSO, “along with most law enforcement agencies in the U.S., saw a drastic decline in law enforcement applicants. Whether you attribute this to the negative media coverage of law enforcement in general, or to the improving economy, this lack of qualified law enforcement applicants created challenges for agencies across the nation.”

“It should have said all the publicity about law enforcement shootings, beatings throughout the nation,” he said, shifting the focus to reporting about “what’s happening in law enforcement.”

Even though things are looking up in terms of staffing, Gutierrez said the department also has a lot of personnel nearing retirement. “A lot of guys are eligible to retire in the next two or three years. If they all leave at the same time it could revert back … We’re keeping our fingers crossed and keep training people.” Still, he added, because of the required training, “every time somebody quits, it’s six months before we can replace them.”

Residents with concerns about traffic control devices and other issues within the purview of TxDOT should use this link: https://www.txdot.gov/contact-us/form.html”id=

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