SAN ANTONIO – When the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve there will be a new sheriff in town. Javier Salazar will be sworn in as the new Bexar County sheriff, capping a 20-year career at the San Antonio Police Department.
Salazar said in a recent interview that he's taking several ideas with him from the Police Department and even a few former colleagues to help him run the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.
Salazar said his constituents can expect to see a lot of him in the community. Like his former boss San Antonio police Chief William McManus, Salazar plans to be a high-profile sheriff and wants his deputies to be seen too.
"I plan to be actively involved in the community. Let's face it, I've learned from one of the best in the business, Chief McManus. Certainly, he's never shied away from being involved in the day-to-day operations of the Police Department. I plan to be the same way with the Sheriff's Office," Salazar said. "I think that members of the public can expect to see Bexar County sheriff's deputies in places that they normally wouldn't see us. I want us to get involved in all aspects of what the community's doing, whether it be chamber of commerce meetings, HOA meetings, school board meetings. I want us to have a presence there, so that the public sees us more actively involved in the community."
Salazar will inherit some serious issues within the Sheriff's Office, many of which he made key talking points during his successful campaign to unseat incumbent Sheriff Susan Pamerleau.
One of his top priorities will be improving jail operations.
With five suicides inside the jail this year, four in a short span this summer and allegations of corner-cutting on inmate checks by detention officers, Salazar said he's already focused on how to do things better.
"I'm already starting to work with the state on ways that we can look at pre-inspections or anything that may be available to me. I'll also be reaching out to some of our other law enforcement agencies here locally on the federal level that have that sort of knowledge," Salazar said. "Unfortunately, suicides are a grim reality of law enforcement in the jail setting. It's something that you'll never stop 100 percent. What you should be able to do is proactively try to mitigate some of the circumstances that lend themselves to that so anything we can do proactively to show the public that we are doing everything within our power. You may still have some suicides, but we need to be able to show that we're actively trying to prevent them."
Pamerleau was a big proponent of mental health and made great strides in identifying and treating inmates with mental illness. Salazar said he plans to keep some of her initiatives in place while continuing to build on them.
"Just the way they have specially trained and equipped mental health officers out in the field on the patrol side, I'd like to see us train and equip officers from within the detention officers to do that within the jail population," Salazar said.
The sheriff-elect said he also wants to improve training for detention officers, and he's hoping to bring some employees back who left under Pamerleau, which caused manpower issues and forced officers to work frequent mandatory overtime shifts to fill the gaps.
"At present, there is a manpower issue. The thing is there's positions open. They're just not filled, and part of that has been the mass exodus of deputies leaving the Sheriff's Office," Salazar said. "We'll be reaching out to some of the people that left of their own volition that may decide they want to come back under the right conditions. We need to find out what those conditions are and see if we can improve the situation before we bring them back so that we can retain those folks."
Salazar said he will personally be working a mandatory overtime shift in the jail on day one and will require all the members of his command staff to do the same until they can find a solution to their manpower shortage.
Outside of the jail, Salazar said he's conducting a top-down review of every Sheriff's Office policy and procedure to see what can be improved. One area in which he's already looking to make some changes is the agency's aggressive pursuit policy.
While at the San Antonio Police Department, Salazar saw that agency step back from engaging in dangerous vehicle pursuits of non-violent suspects. Bexar County has not updated its pursuit policy, despite having chases end in crashes that have left suspects dead and deputies injured.
"I've been involved in dozens of pursuits as a pursuing officer. I've been involved in dozens of pursuits as a managing supervisor, and then after the fact as an internal affairs investigator looking at that on a Monday-morning type of situation," Salazar said. "While we all want to catch the bad guy — it's what we do for a living — we also need to be mindful of the fact that pursuit by its very nature presents a threat to anyone that's around, including the violator, anyone in that violator's vehicle, to include the officer and anyone in the officer's vehicle, but also members of the public. So when that danger (is) presented to the public or any other third party, (it) outweighs the need to catch this person. Any policy that exists needs to take all those factors into account."
Salazar said he would also like to upgrade the technology in the Sheriff's Office, including getting deputies outfitted with body cameras, which have already been purchased. The agency has 300, but as of November had only deployed around 50.
"I'm a firm believer in body camera technology. It changes behavior on both sides of the lens. It's just a good tool, and its the new normal in law enforcement," Salazar said.
Salazar will take the oath of office at midnight Sunday at the Bexar County Courthouse. That will be followed by a more formal inauguration ceremony at 4:30 p.m.