Those who would compare our local "constables gone wild" with the Keystone Kops risk the grave disservice of insulting real Keystone Kops everywhere.
Danny Defenbaugh, the former FBI agent conducting a civil investigation into Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans and Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, has filed complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that they violated federal campaign laws. Specifically, employees say the two constables threatened and intimidated them into working on their re-election campaigns. The constables' attorneys accuse Defenbaugh of conducting a political witch hunt for county commissioners; perhaps these lawyers should consider whether they represent witches.
In Precinct 4, Constable Roma Skinner has operated a heavily armed, helmeted and hooded SWAT-like tactical unit since 2001. Other Dallas County constables followed suit. While we'll acknowledge that dressing in paramilitary gear and training for hostage rescues has to be more fun than serving arrest warrants or civil papers, do county taxpayers need this duplicative expenditure?
The Dallas Police Department has a full-time, 40-member SWAT team recognized as one of the nation's best. The Dallas County Sheriff's Department has a 30-member team. Considering how infrequently these necessary units are called upon, isn't that enough door-kickers for one county?
(And that goes for the Dallas Independent School District police tactical unit, too. If a SWAT-worthy situation developed on a DISD campus, wouldn't you want the highly trained city police or sheriff's unit trying to resolve it, instead of the school district cops?)
Dallas County constables don't fund their tactical units through raffles, but if they are so flush in asset forfeiture funds, surely they could find a better use than SWAT Lite. National tactical experts warn that teams of less than 12 members are too small for high-risk operations. The Precinct 4 team claims eight members. It's telling that Skinner refuses to discuss what he spends on his unit or its training and enlisted the Dallas County district attorney's office to defend against this newspaper's request for records.
A superior approach is the way some smaller departments in southern Dallas and Ellis counties have banded together. The Southern Regional Response Group pools talent and resources to create a 36-member team that really could do some good, if called upon.