Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sheriff Gage of Montgomery County Texas in 2008

I had the recent privilege of talking to our Sheriff, Tommy Gage. He is a Texan, born in California on the day that the nuclear bomb exploded in Hiroshima Japan. Everyone who meets our sheriff likes him. He is a straight shooter, taking clear aim at the issues, just like a Texan would do. Walking into his office with his Texas style furniture, he exclaims with great enthusiasm, wearing his famous red, white & blue patriotic tie, "Hello brother Randy". I knew right away that I would not be disappointed with our ensuing conversation!

Mr. Sheriff, how do you like this job?
Man, I love this job! "It doesn't get any better than this!" I want to finish this upcoming term, and one more, for a twelve-year tenure, and then retire. I have been in this business now for 38 years. It all started with the Houston Police Department in 1970. When Kathy Whitmire and her crew came to town in 1982, I went to better pastures with the Montgomery Sheriff's office to work for Joe Corley. Then Guy Williams was voted into office, and he kept me in my position, before promoting me to Lieutenant. In 1996, I resigned from the Sheriff’s Office and went to work for Constable Tim Holifield as a Lieutenant. I was assigned to Pct. II Commissioner Malcolm Purvis’ office. I served there as the Public Relations Officer, mostly environmental work. Enforcing the laws of illegal dumping brings back the memories of a large, illegal dumpsite known as the Thomas Dump Site, a construction debris dumpsite. Commissioner Purvis and I went to Austin and met with officials at the Attorney General’s office. We accomplished getting the site cleaned up and ended the problem.

In 2003 I decided to run for Sheriff and campaigned for 2 years. In January of 2005, I was sworn in as Sheriff. Now I am living my dream, which will be a great way to end my Law Enforcement career, as a Texas Sheriff.

Since taking office you have had four citizen’s academies sponsored by your office. What is your opinion on its usefulness? Well, I have to tell you, there is always a diverse group of people in that academy, learning what we do and how we do it. It is our opportunity to show off the Sheriff's office, because we are Texas proud! We are the 7th largest Sheriff’s department in this great state. Harris County is the largest. Other counties call upon us, especially when they need help with a murder case, or taking evidence when they do not have the proper equipment or support staff. Our investigative staff is superb, and we have the tools to help other counties. This academy helps the image of our department in the eyes of the public.

Sheriff, you have a reputation of cleaning up the jail. One of my classmates remarked that the new supervised pod that we toured is better than home. I guess you are talking about our direct supervision. Yes, that one is for very good conduct. When we came into office, the place was understaffed. There was no money to open the supervised pods. At our request, Commissioners Court gave us money to hire 89 more people, 54 of which were for this new facility. After correcting the deficiencies and ridding the place of bad odors; the jail passed the state inspection. Then we hired the 54 employees to staff the new facility. You know with our new facility, a different method is used for supervision. As a result, we had to add an entire week to cadet training for certification. Instead of two weeks training, the jailors must now have three to be able to work in the old and new facility. If you had gone into the jail before we arrived, you would know how different it is now! We are building a new facility this year to hold an additional 1100 inmates. Since we have 1150 beds now, that will be a huge capacity change. We will contract the operation of that jail facility to a private company, but we will have the responsibility for its operation. That means we will be there every day to check on things. At first, the US government will pay for it through a contract to house federal prisoners. "We will stay on top of things there to make sure it does not have any problems." We will get a kitchen out of it that will feed the entire inmate system here. By converting the current kitchen into another group of cells, we add capacity to the old facility.

Just out of curiosity, Sheriff do you personally ever issue tickets? Nope, I do not - don't have time for it. The chief will at times, but not me. I wrote thousands of tickets in my days on the motorcycle. Those days are behind me.

How about your campaign promises for the 2005 election? Has the cooperative policing program worked out for you and your staff? It sure has. There is only one holdout, and that has not been a big problem. The East county constable has remained independent. But a new constable candidate has been elected for the Republicans, so there is hope that this will bring all of our policing organizations together in communication and cooperation. The other agencies share my enthusiasm for this cooperation and sharing of information. It works very well. Now there are two Texas Rangers assigned here.

So Sheriff, how about firearms? I was surprised to see the deputies buying their own firearms. Well it all comes down to this. Every officer has their preferred weapons. It may be a 38, 357, 40caliber, 45, or 9mm; the brands are their choices. It has to do with effectiveness in doing their work. They must each pass the qualification course with their own weapon(s). All go through the academy which has some tough expectations.

As you know, I am from The Woodlands, so I have some interest in the crime rate there. Some residents feel that crime is increasing and are concerned. Sir, "The Woodlands is one of the safest places to live in the county". In South County, there are many deterrents. No matter how many police officers you have there, you will still have some crime. It is going to happen. We can adjust where we patrol when there is a problem, and we do. I feel safer in The Woodlands than anywhere in the county. "Brother Randy, we will never have enough policemen." We will do our best with what we've got to enforce the law. We have very fine people. I assure you that you will get what your tax dollar pays for first. You will also get what you pay extra for. As long as I am Sheriff, we will fill vacancies for the contracts first. Also, if there are issues, my office is always open. I will talk to anyone anytime about any issue, but I may not be in my office or I might be tied up with someone else, so it is advantageous to the resident that he calls ahead of time. If I am available, an appointment is not required. I will talk.

And how about drugs? I have seen drugs consumed in The Woodlands. If it were not for drugs, we would not be building a new jail facility. Many burglaries, robberies, and other crimes are directly related to illegal drugs. The problem is not just in The Woodlands. It is everywhere in the county, state and country. Our copper theft is related to illegal drugs.

It is up to us to get the message to our children and to our grandchildren. Do NOT take illegal drugs even one time. People get addicted very easily. You know, everyone is important to me, certainly the youngsters and the seniors. I tell the kids out there that are involved with things, whether it is sports or roping calves - there is hope for this generation. Look at you, I say. We have hope. But stay away from drugs!

It should be noted that our narcotic investigators are busy. The queue is fairly long, but we get out there after them when we can. The time may be coming when Marijuana is legalized, and then we have additional problems with drivers - on the road under the influence of the drug.

How is your motorcycle division doing? We have five and they are doing great. Those guys are writing a lot of tickets. I believe they are making a difference. I wish we had more of them.

One of the reasons cited by some for the need to incorporate The Woodlands is the need to have city cops. What do you think? Well, one of these days The Woodlands probably will incorporate, but they will not have anything much different than they have now for policing their community. We have a "beat cop" model in place now. The beat cop gets to know the community. I hope if and when The Woodlands incorporates that they would give our folks (under their contracts) a shot at the jobs first.

Now that you have fulfilled the original campaign promises, what next? We are happy with what we have accomplished. Our problem going forward is money. Our budget constrains us. We are stewards of your tax money and must do what we can with what we have. Our salaries are not as high as the big city - namely Houston, where they give big bonuses for signing up on a contract. There is however more to life than money. We want our employees to want to work here. They are treated here with respect and honor. They also have extra jobs to work, as has been the case for many years now. Supplementing salary with extra jobs is a way of life for a peace officer.

I have one more question. There is more momentum towards enforcing immigration laws locally. How would this affect your operation? We have the INS here every day to pull out illegals, but we do not search for them in the streets. Until they stop crossing the border, we will continue to have them in our county. It is a losing battle.

Sheriff Gage has no opponent in the fall election. In my opinion, we are very lucky to have this very respected gentleman here in Montgomery County, overseeing law enforcement for our safety. He soundly defeated his opponent in the Republican Primary, receiving 62% of the votes cast.

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