Sheriff Robert Chody understands law enforcement is about more than arrests. Since his election in 2016, he has created and affected many changes to make Williamson a safer and more connected county. He spoke with the Advocate to talk about his “top five” and other programs that have had the greatest impact for residents, deputies, and corrections.
1. REDUCTION IN RESPONSE TIMES
When the Sheriff began his tenure, average response time in the County was 21-28 minutes. By 2019, he says, that time was reduced to just over 11 minutes. “This is a big accomplishment. We made it a priority to hire more deputies, and now require minimum staffing for all shifts. With budget and COVID considerations, this has been challenging, but I plan to continue adding personnel and reducing that response time further.”
In addition to personnel, the Sheriff adjusted the department’s Nature Codes to reflect, more accurately, the priority response for each. He ex- plains, “We had a ‘cow’ code that was considered a priority response. But a cow loose in a person’s backyard no longer warrants the same response as a cow in the middle of Route 29, which is a dangerous situation. Deputies should have not have to decide between a loose cow or an assault in progress, based solely on a code. With these changes, we are able to direct our deputies to the most appropriate place.” As such, the department responds first to life endangerment, active burglary and assault, and CPR.
2. THE COLD CASE UNIT
The Cold Case Unit has full-time staff and many expert volunteers working daily to solve more than a dozen cases spanning several decades. “While we haven’t solved any of the murders,” the Sheriff explains, “in just 2-1/2 years we have identified two victims who had been unknown since 1979 and 1989. That is a huge accomplishment for our team and provides some measure of closure for their families. But, most importantly, my detectives now have a new starting point to look for persons of interest and suspects.”
3. SELF DEFENSE ACADEMY
This free service to the community helps educate citizens on self-defense, and the highly-trained instructors now also provide in-house training for officers to hone their ground fighting skills. “This kind of training is another tool in the toolbox for officers and the general public who want to be able to protect them- selves better against anyone or anything they encounter as a threat.”
4. DRONE PROGRAM INTRODUCED
Since instituting the program in 2016, the Sheriff’s Office has purchased more than 20 drones, some of which are equipped with night vision. Sheriff Chody says, “The ultimate goal is for every deputy to have a drone on-call for all types of calls; armed suspect pursuit, silver alerts, or locating autistic individuals, particularly in the rural areas of Williamson County.” Inspired by person- al experience and citizen feedback, the Sheriff is pleased with the results and the impact of this program across the county. “Having the ability to deploy a drone to locate a missing person, particularly in the Texas heat, is a tremendous asset to us, and a great service to the community. I am also proud that we have been able to assist nearby agencies with these valuable tools, and it was all developed at no cost to the taxpayer; we purchased the drones with seized funds.”
5. C.A.L.E.A. ACCREDITATION
The Sheriff’s Office is in the process of being approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Fewer than five Texas Sheriff’s departments have attained this level of certification, which is based on compliance and consistency for best practices and procedures. “We expect our approval by November,” Sheriff Chody says. “I am looking forward to sharing with the public that we have been proven to meet this national standard. Measures include use of force, pursuit policies, and many other things that are part of the national conversation today. While we are proud to have already met these standards, we have every intention to improve beyond those.”
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
There is also a Mobile Field Force Team, created within and to train Corrections personnel to protect officers and inmates when it becomes necessary to remove or use force on inmates. “Officers have better training and proper equipment, which results in reduced need for force, and fewer injuries.”
Also in Corrections, he created a Gang Intelligence Unit that interviews inmates and identifies gang members who are in the county jail. “It is critical to know exactly who is in our jail and identify those who might present a threat based on rivalries. There is not much gang activity in our county, but many members wind up in our jail. Those interviews have solved burglaries and provided street intel for state and federal agencies to locate other persons of interest.”
The Department has also created active shooter protocols that include social media outreach for concerned parents, and providing a law enforcement presence in a school when an investigation is initiated. They have also added new teams to the K-9 unit to provide nearly 24-hour coverage for appropriate needs.
“I am glad our department is current, and on the cutting edge in terms of citizen and junior programs, and we will continue to introduce and adapt national programs that engage, educate, and protect the people of Williamson County.”