DETROIT — All incorporated cities have laws on the books, but those ordinances tend to lose their effect when the local government has no way to enforce them. Without a police department, that’s the situation Detroit faces.
City Secretary Tami Nix said the city lacks an official with the authority to issue tickets, and the Red River County Sheriff’s Office won’t write tickets for municipal code violations.
“They come out for calls and will enforce speeding, but they can’t do anything about enforcing ordinances,” she said. “I can’t think of a specific time where we needed to enforce something and couldn’t, but if we ever did need to, we wouldn’t be able to.”
Mayor Kenny Snodgrass, however, said there have been instances in which residents let their grass grow too tall or left junk outside, both violations of city codes.
“We need to get this junk cleaned up so we can beautify our city, and we can’t,” he said.
Nix said the explanation she has been given by the sheriff’s office is that it lacks the authority to enforce municipal codes. However, she said she thinks they should be able to issue tickets for code violations since there isn’t a local authority to carry out that role.
Nix and Snodgrass also noted that response time from the sheriff’s office also can be delayed, especially at night.
“They have such a huge area; it’s hard for them to cover it all,” Nix said. “As needed, they’re always here if we call them for a burglary or another crime as quick as they can. But this is a big county, and I’ve been told they only have one deputy patrolling late at night, and so I know that’s hard for them.”
Nix said the city has been making efforts to provide more amenities for its residents, and as they grow, she believes the need for law enforcement will become greater.
“We want to be more vibrant… we want to bring some more life into the town and add more things for youth and more places to eat — things like that,” Nix said. “We want to provide services for our community so you don’t have to always go to Clarksville or Paris… If we do that, I do think we need to have more of a (law enforcement) presence, if nothing else than for safety.”
Nix said it isn’t currently feasible for the city to finance its own police department, given the associated costs of not just salaries, but also vehicles, equipment, training, liability insurance, a city jail and more. Snodgrass said he’s been looking for grants that could help fund a local police department, but he hasn’t found any yet.
One solution city leaders have considered is contracting with the Red River County Sheriff’s Office to have a deputy or deputies to primarily serve Detroit. However, Nix said the idea has only been briefly talked about with the mayor, and as such is in the very early stages.
“They haven’t said anything to me about it yet, but I’d be very open to this if the sheriff is open to it,” County Judge L.D. Williamson said. “I’m always open to anything that’d help out any part of the county.”
Williamson said there is precedent for such an interlocal agreement, as sheriff’s office has previously contracted with other cities, such as Bogata. There also is precedent for such an agreement in Detroit. City Clerk and longtime employee Billie Owens said the city contracted with the county in the 1970s and ’80s.
“I first retired in 1987, and it had already ended by that point,” Owens said, adding she can’t remember what caused the agreement to end.
Owens said she does not remember seeing any increase in crime after the contract ended. Sheriff Jimmy Caldwell did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Williamson couldn’t predict how much a contract for Detroit would cost now.
“The cost would, of course, depend on what they’re expected to do,” he said.
“The way I thought of it would be that we would basically employ an officer and then work out the particulars with the judge or (justice of the peace),” Nix said.
“We want to keep our city safe and we’re looking for ways to do that,” Snodgrass said. “That’s what this really comes down to, is safety.”