GOP holds Primary Sheriff Candidate Forum
Last updated Jan. 21
The North Hays Republican Group hosted a “Hays County Sheriff’s Office GOP Candidate Forum,” on Sunday at the Church of the Springs.
The forum featured incumbent Sheriff Gary Cutler and primary challenger Deputy Constable David Graham. Mr. A.J. Bergeron of Dripping Springs served as moderator for the forum.
The candidates answered question from the moderator for the first 40 minutes, and answered questions from audience members for approximately 30 minutes. Audience questions were written down on 3 by 5 cards and handed to the moderator by forum volunteers.
At the forum’s beginning, Bergeron asked the packed room that audience members be respectful of the candidates and other audience members. “I know that each candidate has a cheering committee of strong supporters present here tonight, and I ask you to be respectful of the candidates and your fellow audience members. What’s valuable about these forums is that people get an opportunity to hear what these candidates stand for. Let’s let the statements stand for themselves and allow the candidates to answer fully so that we can leave here tonight knowing what these candidates stand for.”
At the beginning each candidate was given three-minutes to introduce themselves, and then two-minutes to answer questions. At the forum’s conclusion, each candidate was given 3 minutes for their closing.
A coin flip determined which candidate went first, and then the questions proceeded in a serpentine fashion. Graham won the coin toss and elected to go first.
In his introduction Graham said, “Hays County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country for the past ten years and the Sheriff’s Department has to adapt to keep up with those changes. What I have to offer is 36 years of law enforcement experience.” After listing an impressive number of police officer postings which began at age 19, he spoke more specifically about his service with the Dallas Police Department which began in 1990, and where he worked for 27 years prior to his retirement. “I started on patrol, I worked in community relations, I worked in crime prevention, and was promoted to sergeant. The office of the chief of police brought me up as the administrative sergeant to facilitate the day to day operations of the department. I spent several years in the chief’s office, and from there I was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. The rank of lieutenant in the City of Dallas is a ‘unit commander,’ so as a unit commander I was assigned to several high profile positions. I started out as a watch commander, from there they transferred me to personnel and development where we were tasked with hiring and training for over 3,500 officers. From there I went to the air support unit. I held a helicopter pilot’s license, I was a command pilot, and provided air support to our communities and first responders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After that, I served in internal affairs. I was tasked with maintaining the integrity and ethics of the police department by investigating corruption, policy violations, and post reviews of all shootings. When I first transferred to internal affairs we had over 600 complaints that year, and 23 officer involved shootings. We were really, really busy but it was a great learning experience for me. From there I was transferred to tactical operations where I spent my last four years as a unit commander. In tactical operations, I supervised the SWAT team, the bomb squad, the canine and mounted units, the reserve battalion, the dive team, and office of special events—and I was also tasked with doing all the operational training for any large scale event. I did the operational training when the Superbowl was in town, the final four, the state fair every year, that attracts over three-million people, and all of the large scale protests that we had going on in downtown. I was a tactical incident commander the night that we were ambushed by an active shooter where five of my colleagues were killed, and nine wounded. That was the second active shooter incident I was involved with. After retirement I moved to Dripping Springs, my son is a deputy sheriff, and I have been working for Constable Ron Hood for the past three years. I would like to continue to serve our community as your Sheriff.”
Sheriff Cutler introduced himself by saying, “For those that don’t know me, I’m Gary Cutler, I’m the Hays County Sheriff, and I’ve served in this position for nine years. I’ve been in law enforcement for the past 45 years. I’m a native Texan, born and raised here. I’ve been a taxpayer here in Hays County for over 30 years. I look to myself as a very conservative Republican. Strong 2nd Amendment Sheriff. I feel I’m the strongest 2nd Amendment Sheriff in Texas. I can tell you that with me as your Sheriff, your guns are safe here in Hays County. I also have an excellent working relationship with ICE. If you’re not familiar with ICE, it’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We work with them daily, weekly, in our jail. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you as your elected Sheriff, a position I’m very proud of. It’s an honor. A position I’ve held for nine years, but let me explain something, it’s far more than just holding the title “Sheriff.” We are one of the fastest growing counties in the country. I look at myself not just as your elected Sheriff, but I also look to myself as an administrator. You have to be an administrator today in a county our size, and growing as fast as we are. We have over 400 positions in the Hays County Sheriff’s Department. We have a fleet of over 234 cars, with county assets of over millions of dollars, over 500 inmates, and a budget of just less than $45 million. I’ve submitted a budget every year, a multi-million dollar budget, and I’ve stayed under budget every year that I’ve submitted it. But you know, I don’t do this by myself. Any CEO, administrator or Sheriff surrounds himself with good people, and I’m no different. I’ve got a chief deputy and three captains that work under me, one of them is a Marine, one is former Army, and three of the four are graduates of the FBI National Academy. What they bring the most is over 100 years of law enforcement experience to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. With my 45 years of law enforcement experience, that gives us about 150 years of county government, not municipalities, not state, but in county governments. Like I said I’m honored to be here tonight and to stand before you as your Sheriff, and I’m looking forward to your questions.”
Moderator Question: What are the biggest challenges facing the Sheriff’s Department and how would you solve them?
Deputy Constable David Graham- I think there are three challenges. One with our continued growth crime is going to be a problem, traffic safety concerns are going to continue to be an issue, and the continued overcrowding of the jail—even after the $65 million dollar expansion is completed will continued to be an issue. First of all, the Sheriff’s Office needs to get its staffing back up to full strength, that will have an immediate improvement on response time to calls, it will also help address traffic safety concerns. They disbanded the motorcycle unit well over a year ago. We have seven motorcycles valued at $25,000 dollars apiece gathering dust at the garage. There were other options. That’s a valuable resource. They address our traffic safety concerns. They reduce fatality accidents, they reduce injuries, patrol our school zones. My second initiative then would be to get the motorcycle unit back up and running. Then with the jail, I would make sure that we’re using “cite and release” whenever possible- that means all the municipalities. There are eight different criminal offenses that you can you can use cite and release, that would otherwise be arrestable .Other options are to advocate for a pre-trail release program would directly help the overcrowding of the jail, and also, establishing a mental health court and drug court to help those with substance abuse and mental illness, to get them treatment and rehabilitation, rather than incarceration.
Sheriff Gary Cutler- Yes there are a lot of priorities, but obviously number one is to keep you safe. When I took this job, I made a commitment to keep you safe, you, your family, your kids, your property safe. That’s my top priority to keep you safe. The second one is, no doubt about it, it would be the Hays County Jail. It’s been a hot topic ever since I’ve been in office for over nine years. It continues to be a hot topic. That’s something we have to address, and I’m going to have to say we, not just me, but the taxpayers. We’re spending millions of dollars outsourcing inmates. When I came in, I was lucky enough as a sheriff to reorganize my jail, because I had prior experience working in jails. I discontinued outsourcing, which saved you [the taxpayer] millions of dollars. But I knew the day would come when we would have to go back to outsourcing. In July of 2014, that day came. Our inmate population went up. We started outsourcing again, and we also went straight to work to do something about the problem—working closely with commissioners court, with attorneys, and coming to you with the best bond possible to address the problem, and we did. We had a bond passed in 2016, $106.4 million dollars. We went to work, and here we are only a few months away from opening an expansion of the Hays County Jail. The expansion is designed to house 1,000 inmates. We’re not just building it for today, we’re building it for the future. That’s the big problem, and I’m planning to that by this summer bringing your tax dollars home and bringing our inmates home. So that’s my two big priorities in Hays County. Thank you.
Moderator Question: What is your assessment of the working relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies?
Sheriff Gary Cutler- Thank you. We have an excellent, not a good, but excellent working relationship with all agencies within our county and surrounding counties. A lot of you may not know this, but the Hays County Narcotics Task Force has been together for years. It is housed in the San Marcos Police Department. I have a sergeant, and three officers working with the San Marcos Police Department. Our SWAT team, San Marcos and Hays County SWAT team, has been together forever. I have officers in my office that are also in the United States Marshall’s Lone Star Task Force. We have officers in our Auto Theft Taskforce, that work with numerous counties. This list goes on, and on, ladies and gentlemen. We got a drone unit, we work directly with the San Marcos Police Department regularly, on hostage negotiation units. I mean this list goes on forever. We have outstanding working relationships. I can tell you that being your Sheriff for nine years, I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been in this area of law enforcement for 45 years, so I know what we got, and it’s outstanding relationships. Thank you.
Deputy Constable David Graham- There is a lack of cooperation between the Sheriff’s Department and the other law enforcement agencies, and I can give you a couple of examples. When I first came to work for Constable Hood, the Sheriff’s resources are limited, and we assist them up here in the north end of the county with calls for service. The first police report I made, I made because the two local Sheriff’s cars were tied up on a major incident, and there was a call holding for an extended period of time. I took the call, and I made the police report, and then the administration from the Sheriff’s Department called me and said, “Hey, constables don’t make police reports. The Sheriff’s Department does. We’re going to have to send another car out there.” We’ll I’m not answering calls because I have nothing to do. I was out there answering calls to assist them, because the Sheriff’s resources were tied up on a call—and I’ve been making reports for a city of over 1.3 million people and I’ve never had an issue. The other [relationship] issue is Sheriff Cutler personally came to our office and told us we could no longer use their evidence storage lockers. So if we’re out here and we process a crime scene, we can’t use their evidence locker to lock it in. My current worker who’s here tonight, processed a crime scene, then he and I had to take all the evidence he collected down to DPS headquarters in downtown Austin, to get it processed—when the evidence locker is in the same facility in which we’re located. We all need to work together, and we all need to share our resources, and that’s one of the other things that I want to focus on. We’re all force multipliers, we’re all on the same side, we’re all trying to meet the same goals and objectives. So we all need to start working together and share our resources.
Moderator Question: On improving traffic safety, and preventing fatalities. What can be done to improve traffic safety, especially around Highway 290?
Sheriff Gary Cutler- That’s a good question. We are working on traffic, including safety on Highway 290. We work real closely with the Department of Public Safety, real closely with our constables up here, and we address this issue all the time. Let me explain something about traffic. We had to pull some people out of our traffic unit, and all this is ladies and gentlemen is management 101. Your front line defense out there is your patrol division. You got to keep that fully staffed. If those areas fall short, you have to make some adjustments. So I’ve had to move some people temporarily from the traffic patrol divisions. But don’t forget we have 65 patrol men out there. All of them are traffic units. They come in contact with a [traffic] problem, they take the appropriate action. So we work with DPS, constantly try to have operations. We just had a “no refusal” weekend. It was a big success. So we are addressing that problem. There are fatalities, but we just have to continue to work with our communities. But let me tells you how this works. We work a red light. As soon as we pull off that red light, people start running it. That just happens because of the volume out there. But we address traffic, and we will continue to address it as our staffing comes up. What you may not know is that the San Marcos Department has had to do the same thing because of staffing. If you’ve heard on the news the City of Austin had to also do the same thing, and use management 101. Thank you.
Deputy Constable David Graham- Constable Ron Hood had the foresight to ask commissioners court for an additional full time deputy, another full time position, to address the traffic issues up here, and he was granted that. Travis County Sheriff’s Office had the foresight to ask for two deputy sheriff’s to on a two-year pilot program to be assigned to 290 from our county line to Austin City limits. And our Sheriff’s Department didn’t advocate for anything on that. First thing I would do is to reinstate the motorcycle unit. The reason they discontinued it is because they had a staffing shortage. And that’s another issue- Why did they have that shortage? I would do an operational plan. You have the constables office, the sheriff’s department, Travis county, Blanco county, get them all together and say “Hey these are the issues we’re having. What resources can you commit, and how can we work together to develop an operational plan to deal with that? And then go out there and do our traffic job to reduce fatalities, and help reduce the injuries out there on, not only just 290, but on all the other major roadways throughout the county.