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China Grove shuts down police department
Until further notice, China Grove residents will receive their police protection via the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and the Bexar County Pct. 4 Constable’s Office, following the China Grove City Council’s vote during a Dec. 9 special meeting to indefinitely suspend the China Grove Police Department.
Former Officer Damian Balderas said that he, former Chief Larry Davis, and former Reserve Officer John Jenkins Jr. met Dec. 10 with Mayor Pro Tem Doug Pruski to sign severance agreements and to turn in their uniforms. As part of the agreement, the officers also shut down the department’s Facebook page.
Mayor Eugene Ripps said on the morning after the Dec. 9 meeting that the council voted 4-0-1 in favor of the move. His wife, Alderman Cathy Ripps, abstained.
The mayor said suspension of the police department is not a permanent decision, and that it could be reopened once policies and procedures are established for police officers and other city employees. Former Mayor Dennis Dunk said such policies were enacted during his term in office.
“I wished it could have went some other way,” Mayor Ripps said. “Legal advice told me this was my option.”
Dunk raised questions over the legality of the meeting, which was held at 4 p.m. and not attended by any members of the general public or by any of the department’s officers. Notice of the meeting was not posted on the city’s official website in accordance with state law and it is unknown whether a notice was posted at China Grove City Hall at least 72 hours before the meeting.
Dunk does not know how a notice could have been posted because both the city secretary and court clerk are part-time employees who do not report to work on Fridays.
Mayor Ripps said he hopes that the Texas Rangers will conduct an investigation of the department, in light of allegations of officers not being on patrol in the city, which he said were raised by Police Chief Larry Davis and by residents. Mayor Ripps said residents complained of seeing police vehicles in other areas of the county, not in China Grove.
“We had one month where they wrote zero tickets,” he said.
Balderas, who worked with the department for more than two years, refuted Ripps’ claims and said he has records of every citation that he wrote during his tenure in China Grove. The council raised similar concerns at an earlier meeting, despite the Texas Transportation Code’s prohibition of traffic-offense quotas.
The subject of ticket quotas first was raised in a three-page letter Balderas wrote to Dunk and former City Secretary Susan Conaway about a conversation he had with Alderman John McRae. The former officer alleged that McRae chided him over writing too many tickets.
“I am in fear that because of this complaint, I am putting the department and myself at the risk of retaliation by Mr. McRae,” Balderas wrote.
Balderas also said that rumors in the community indicate that Alderman Mike Trainor -- a 21-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department -- wanted to do away with the department so that he could become chief after it is re-established.
“That’s pretty far-fetched,” Trainor said. “That’s something I can’t do even if I wanted to.”
China Grove is east of San Antonio along U.S. 87, a highway considered by other area law-enforcement agencies as a narcotics corridor. While Mayor Ripps expressed confidence over Bexar County’s ability to keep the city safe in the face of such activity, Dunk said the sheriff’s office only has one deputy dedicated to that quadrant of the county at any given time.
Bexar County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Rosanne Hughes would not address potential manpower issues, but said that deputies -- who patrolled the city prior to the China Grove Police Department’s formation in 2007 -- have aided the department in the past and are patrolling the city in a full-time capacity.
Hughes also said the sheriff’s office is awaiting notification from the city with regard to open criminal investigations and the transfer of the chain of custody for evidence and property stored in the police station.
McRae, former police Chief Larry Davis, and City Attorney Steve Peña could not be reached for comment prior to press time Dec. 16.
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