Port Mansfield’s police department looking to expand through grants

PORT MANSFIELD — Police Chief David Mayes is laying down the law in this tiny fishing village.

About three months ago, Mayes became the first police chief to oversee this town with a population of about 400.

“I’m honored I was chosen,” said Mayes, a former lieutenant with the Harris County Constable’s Office. “It’s what I wanted coming from a big city.”

About a year ago, Port Director Donald Mills set out to launch a police department that would work under the Willacy County Navigation District, which oversees the area.

With a budget of about $100,000, the district opened its first police department in June, Mayes said.

“By and large, it’s been embraced,” he said.

His first hire was Joe Salazar, a former Willacy County deputy sheriff who serves as his reserve officer.

“People feel a little more comfortable with their property,” Mayes said.

He said he’s applied for grants to try to hire two full-time officers.

Before the district created its own police department, the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department assigned a deputy here.

But last year’s closing of the Willacy County Correctional Center led to budget cuts that reduced patrol.

Sheriff Larry Spence said he’s working with Mayes as officials here build up their police department.

“We’re working real well with the chief,” Spence said. “The fact they have someone there makes us feel better. We try to help as much as we can with any issue. For any major issues, we advised them we’d help them.”

Soon after taking office, Mayes cracked down on thefts ranging from fishing rods to Yeti coolers.

Weekdays can be slow in this community that prides itself as one of Texas’ hottest fishing spots.

But weekends often bring fishing tournaments that can draw hundreds of anglers.

In early 2015, a rash of thefts sparked concern among residents.

Resident John Sterling said thieves even stole his brother-in-law’s golf cart.

By June 2015, the sheriff’s department had arrested a 23-year-old Edinburg man and his 16-year-old stepson on charges that included the theft of a $10,000 boat, fishing gear and as many as 20 Yeti coolers with price tags ranging from $300 to $900.

Like other residents, Sterling feels safer with Mayes on patrol.

“He’s been a real good thing for the community,” said Sterling, vice president of the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce. “It makes everyone feel better.”

Mayes said he’s working with residents to make the town safer.

“You have to be willing to hear the needs of the community and take action on it, to identify problems and take them on before they become bigger problems,” Mayes said. “I want to improve the quality of life for the residents of this area and the region that uses this as a playground.”