The May 18th city council meeting primarily addressed the subject of Ballinger police officers off-duty use of city vehicles for security work.
Ballinger resident Kelly Monse addressed the council about the police officers using their duty vehicles to work security on the pipeline in the county, “My concern for being here tonight is that I’m really disappointed in the Ballinger PD. I’m seeing them outside of the city limits more and more. I have a shop downtown that is within a stone’s throw of the courthouse that’s been broken into 4 or 5 times. Every time I go down there and something is broken or messed up, I just makes me more and more upset when I see them (police officers) outside of town. Now we’re seeing them outside of the county. I know that they could be working on a contract, off hours or whatever it is but have y’all seen a contract? Is there a list of hours worked, payments, liabilities? It’s a concern. I was wondering if y’all were even aware of that.” Councilman Jeff Smith said that the topic was on this week’s agenda and would be discussed.
Mayor Dawni Seymore opened with that agenda item that Council Jeff Smith had requested, “Review of Ballinger PD policies and procedures, including but not limited to, use of city vehicles for off shift private security jobs, scheduling of off-shift security and utilization of CopSynch program.” Smith said that he had received calls from citizens regarding the police officers using city vehicles for off-duty contract security work outside of the city and, in a recent case, outside of the county. The subject of who was paying the off-duty officers was also addressed. The cops are paid through the pipeline company.
Smith said that a dispatcher had also complained that the police officers were turning off their “CopSynch” programs and thus the dispatchers didn’t know where they were. CopSynch is the program that tells the dispatches and other officers were each police officer or sheriff’s deputy is via GPS and a map.
Smith said that the use of city vehicles by off-duty officers had been addressed previously and that they had decided that wasn’t to happen. “We had already covered the use of city vehicles for security gigs and had decided that wasn’t a good idea due to liability issues.” Smith said that it was decided at a council meeting. The problem is that it’s 5 months into 2020 and the city hasn’t posted any agendas, minutes or council meeting videos since 2019.
Councilman Rick Morrish said that the city had been down this road before regarding the officers using their city vehicles for off duty work and believed that the issue had been decided and that officers weren’t to use city vehicles for off duty security. Smith said that if a police officer needed a vehicle to do an off-duty job, they needed to provide their own vehicle.
City attorney Pat Chesser brought up an incident that happened in another city where an off-duty officer hurt his back. The injury was not workers comp since the officer was off-duty at the time. Chesser said that if an officer was acting as a peace officer, such as chasing a suspect or making an arrest, then they’d be covered by worker’s comp. The point was that their security gigs aren’t necessarily police gigs.
Monse asked about the police officers’ jurisdiction, “So they have jurisdiction outside of the county? They’re working the pipeline in Olfen.” Ballinger Police Chief Stan Maresch responded, “We have jurisdiction in the entire state. You’re a Texas Peace Officer. We’re commissioned by the city, county or state but we’re licensed through the state so anywhere in the state we have jurisdiction.” Monse asked about working in the county, “The cop was outside of Paint Rock flagging for the pipeline company. What is the law enforcement scene of it there?” Maresch said that the pipeline had asked them to help them move the pipeline across 83, “On that security for the pipeline, they asked us to help with them moving items across 83. I didn’t realize how close to the county line it was going to be. My understanding when we signed up was that we’d be in our county. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. No PD vehicle left the county except for that one incident.“
Monse brought up a recent situation in Blanco involving city police officers performing off-duty security work for pipeline security company Kinder Morgan. According to KXAN, in that situation there were no records of contracts between the city or the police department. The work was being done outside the city limits. One person at a protest said she believed it was a conflict of interest with the police officers working off-duty security because if they needed the police, who do they call? The KXAN article said that the police chief of Blanco, Mike Ritchey, was also working security and showed up in his police uniform at the Kinder Morgan yard. Ritchey would eventually retire a few weeks after the KXAN investigation. Monse commented about concerns regarding working off-duty security, “You have to have a contract with the company for liability reasons.” Monse said that he doesn’t have a problem with the cops doing the security, he just wants to make sure “it’s done and done correctly.”
Monse also said that what he has a problem with is seeing Ballinger PD and emergency vehicles outside of Ballinger, “They’re parked up by the cross, they set up speed traps up there, I’ve seen them in Hillcrest.” He continued, “We still have crime in Ballinger inside the city limits.” Ballinger Printing owner Steve Gray asked who was paying for the gas for the vehicles during off-duty security. Maresch said that the city does pay for the gas for the vehicle, “It’s always been an incentive because of our pay. Our starting pay is $15/hour, technically $14.50 if you want to crunch the numbers.”
Gray said that people in Ballinger are concerned, “A big portion of our populace is (upset) because our vehicles are out of town. We get things like, ‘We don’t work 24/7 , we get nonresponse to calls. I understand why they’re (upset) and y’all really need to understand why.’”
Smith said that he believed the first step regarding off-duty security was limiting the liabilities.
Smith also brought up the CopSynch system. Smith said that he’s heard from several dispatchers and people who listen to their scanners that there have been requests for Ballinger officers to turn back on their GPS. Smith said that dispatchers have trouble finding officers at times because they turn off their GPS, “That, in my opinion, can’t happen at all.” Maresch said that the officers can’t turn off their GPS devices, “They’re not able to turn off their GPS. A lot of times what happens is it’s software. Sometimes the internet goes down and it kicks off the GPS and it won’t broadcast so you have to reboot the system.” Smith said that it was enough of a concern that the dispatchers brought it up to him. Maresch responded, “It’s one dispatcher that’s really concerned about it for some reason. It’s just her deal and she wants to make sure she sees everybody.” Smith reiterated that it was something that the people were concerned about.
The discussion from the council centered around establishing policies and procedures for the use of duty vehicles. Morrish said that once the police officers got home that their vehicles were supposed to stay there until they reported for duty or there was an emergency. This conversation raised the issue of police officers using their vehicles for trips to Shoppin’ Baskit or Walmart. Councilman Ryan Lange said that he believed it helped deter crime because of increased visibility. The question was brought up of who would be at-fault if the officer got into a collision off-duty; If the officer was at-fault, who would be liable, the city or the officer? That brings up the question of what would happen to an officer injured in a city vehicle in an off-duty collision regarding liability and worker’s comp.
Donnie Parsons of Parsons’ Heating & Air, Inc. also commented. Parsons’ wife, Julie Parsons, is the Animal Control officer and at a previous council meeting it was determined that she wasn’t to take her duty vehicle home and has abided by those instructions since the council meeting. As the situation was being discussed, mayor Seymore asked if Parsons was considered a first responder. Maresch said that she was not considered a first responder and that seemed to settle that particular subject.
Smith also wanted to know how off-duty payments are being handled, “I just want to make sure of the legalities of how it’s being handled? I worry about getting ourselves in a sling. Maresch responded, “I’ve been here 10 years and that’s the second time it’s been asked for (pipeline security in the count). 90% of our off-duty security is being done inside the city limits.”
The ultimate result was the city decided to review the policies and procedures of the police department off-duty security and use of city vehicles while off-duty. The practices will be reviewed over the next 2 weeks and will be put on the agenda for the next city council meeting.
Another concern was brought up by Gray regarding comments made by a police officer to a victim who is Kelly Monse’s father. Gray said that an officer told Monse’s father, “We don’t work 24/7.” Gray has been outspoken about that same incident at previous council meetings and says that the police department hasn’t done anything to address it. Maresch said that he spoke with the officer and thinks it was a misunderstanding. He said that he’s also “played phone tag” with Monse’s father. Gray responded, “That should be at the top of your list. The man is not well and is just a good guy and didn’t deserve to have someone say that to him.” Seymore asked Stan if he could have the officer call Mr. Monse and apologize. Maresch said that he would make sure that happens.
The next city council meeting will be June 1st at 5:30 p.m. at Ballinger City Hall at 700 Railroad Avenue.