LETTER: Sheriff on opponent’s criticizm of tornado response

To the Editor:

Recently my opponent mailed out letters claiming my deputies failed to meet the needs of our citizens with a hint that we did not respond in the difficult hours after the December 2015 tornado that struck Ellis County. He went on to support his claim by recklessly posting sensitive operational documents (our patrol schedule and our security schedule) on his campaign’s public Facebook page, creating an opportunity for criminals to learn how we operate on a daily basis. This is shameful, in part, because his effort to get elected does not outweigh the county’s security, but more importantly, his remarks have struck at the heart of my deputies who poured a lot of time and effort into making a difficult situation better for those who were affected. None of my troops ever asked for a pat-on-the-back after the tornado; they sure didn’t deserve what he said.

In an effort to explain his position, my opponent claims we should’ve pulled deputies from another operation we were tasked with to better serve the tornado victims. This demonstrates an ideology in poor management skills. Regardless of the incident, the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, as a professional law enforcement agency, cannot promise its citizens a level of service on one side of the county – and then take that away because of another incident. There was a better way to ensure both were handled in the citizens’ best interest – and your sheriff’s office ensured that all of our responsibilities to you were handled. To me, what he would have done shows poor judgement and is never how we will operate.

One of the reasons we were able to respond so quickly is because when I was first elected in 2009, I increased a proactive presence of law enforcement within our county and issued take-home cars to most of our deputies that reside here in Ellis County. This was a minimal expense to our budget that has paid for itself with quicker response times and an increased deputy presence throughout the county, along with a 60-percent reduction in Part 1 Major Crimes since 2009. On the night of the tornado, not only did our seven deputies who were on patrol respond but 22 additional deputies and investigators, four reserve deputies as well as myself responded immediately from our houses and started helping those in need within minutes after the tornado passed. I also had an additional dispatcher come in to assist with the massive volume of calls we received at the sheriff’s office. Our dispatchers fielded 67 incoming calls related to the tornado in the first hour alone. On top of the tornado-related calls, they also handled 18 incoming calls that were not related to the tornado.

In addition, I activated the Ellis County Sheriff’s Posse, which is a group of volunteer men and women with specialized training in which nine members came out to help. I also activated the Victim Relief Ministries, “Yellow Shirts” as we call them, which is a group of trained men and women who we partner with that provide counsel, spiritual support and even assist with physical needs of victims of crime or, in this case, a natural disaster. Many other agencies assisted in the effort, including the Waxahachie Police Department, Midlothian Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol, Commissioners’ Precinct personnel, TxDOT personnel and various utility companies, along with the ESD No. 6 and fire departments from the cities of Midlothian, Ovilla, Red Oak, Lancaster, Cedar Hill, Mansfield, Ennis and Waxahachie, and I apologize if I’ve inadvertently failed to mention a responding agency in this list. My heartfelt appreciation extends to everyone who was there and assisted in any way as we worked side by side to take care of our community.

Because two of the most affected areas had a Midlothian or Waxahachie address, both of those agencies sent officers to assist until the event was over. This was even the case with the Mansfield Police Department after they learned that one of their own was affected by the event. They sent officers to help and ensure everyone affected was safe. This mutual aid is no different than the way fire departments respond to large fires or rescue operations. When the Magnablend fire became a national news event in 2011, fire departments from all over the county, including those from adjoining counties, responded to help. This is no different than when an agency calls us for help – we respond. Over the past 365 days, your sheriff’s office has responded to 288 mutual aid calls from other agencies that have asked for our help. We have always responded to those calls for assistance. What my opponent has criticized us for with his claiming on his Facebook campaign page that there was a “limited response by the sheriff’s department” is what we and other professional first responders call “mutual aid.” It’s the same type of response that’s used to fight forest fires across the nation and was seen on the biggest scale in our area during the city of West’s fertilizer plant explosion in 2013.

My opponent has also claimed that during the tornado incident that I refused sheriff’s office assets to the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) or IC (Incident Commander). This is a falsehood. Every piece of equipment and asset that was available during the event was utilized.

Another one of his complaints is that I was not personally at the EOC the night the tornado hit and that I sent a subordinate. This is true. What he’s not telling you, the citizens, is that the person I sent to the EOC is my sergeant over the Training Division – who is the most knowledgeable person we have in the Emergency Management arena and who served as the Acting Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator for Ellis County for over a year when the county was without one. He had my full authority to deploy any assets of the sheriff’s office without asking me for permission.

We have taken an oath to protect and serve our communities and we will do whatever we can to help those in need. Partnering together is a practice that law enforcement and fire departments have used for years – and it has proven successful in responding to any critical incident, big or small. I will be the first to say, there is never a critical incident that goes as planned and we cannot train for every scenario or even predict when a disaster will strike, but we can and do partner together and learn from those experiences to ensure we remain on the cutting edge of providing the most effective and efficient responses for our citizens.

Bottom line, there’s a difference between someone, like my opponent, who “would respond to the E.O.C.” to tell others what to do – and someone like me who will respond to the scene itself to see what needs to be done and coordinate the effort in getting it done. There’s a difference between a boss whose idea of management is to tell their people to “Go!” – and a leader who says, “Let’s go!” Under my administration, leadership is not a position or title, it is an action and an example that inspires others to be great at what they do.

I’m sure my opponent did not realize the impact of using another’s tragedy in his attack ads on me and the sheriff’s office – and this is why those at the sheriff’s office expect more from someone whose ambition is to lead them.

— Johnny Brown, Ellis County Sheriff