LYFORD — Like many residents in town, Juan Sauceda wants to know when officials will reopen the police department.
After interim Police Chief Merced Rodriguez resigned Oct. 30, officials closed its doors as they searched for a new police chief.
Then, after newly hired Chief James Harris resigned Nov. 19, they shut down the department again to jump-start their search for a top cop.
“That’s not good,” Sauceda, who works at Subway, said yesterday. “They don’t have the place covered.”
Now, city commissioners are reviewing six candidates before conducting background checks, Mayor Wally Solis said.
“We want to expedite the hiring of the chief,” he said. “We’ve got the motion rolling.”
Solis said officials are trying to reopen the department.
“For me, it’s very important for the citizens of Lyford,” he said. “I want them to be more at ease that there’s law enforcement patrolling the streets.”
Meanwhile, the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department has added the city to its patrol list.
“The sheriff’s department’s been around,” Solis said. “We’ve got protection.”
At the sheriff’s office, Chief Deputy Joe Jimenez said three deputies are patrolling the county.
“The guys will do patrol in all the small communities we have,” Jimenez said. “They all drive through.”
The police department’s recent instability has led officials to close its doors.
In August, Police Chief Andres Maldonado, who was hired at $36,000 plus benefits nearly five years ago, left the position to take a $39,099 major’s job at the sheriff’s department.
After Rodriguez resigned Oct. 30, officials closed the department as commissioners searched for a new chief, City Secretary Lydia Moreno stated.
Rodriguez and two other officers followed Maldonado to take higher-paying jobs at the sheriff’s department, leaving the police department unmanned, Solis said.
Solis said some blame him for driving Maldonado, a retired Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, out of the job.
“Some people blamed me that he left — people saying I treated him wrong,” Solis said.
Maldonado’s decision to leave the job came months after Solis wanted him to take on patrol duty in the department made up of the chief and three police officers.
After commissioners reviewed four candidates for the job, they appointed Harris on Nov. 12 before reopening the department.
Although the city was offering a salary of $36,000 plus benefits, Harris was hired at $47,000, Solis said.
However, officials closed the department again after Harris resigned Nov. 19, Moreno stated.
Solis said Harris resigned after the National Guard, which he described as the “previous employer,” offered him a $20,000 salary hike.
Across town, Sauceda and other residents are concerned sheriff’s deputies might take too long to respond to Lyford’s emergency calls.
While the police department was closed, it took deputies about 30 minutes to respond to his home after thieves stole property there, Sauceda said.
“I understand — the sheriff has to cover the whole county,” Sauceda said. “It takes time for authorities to get out here when we need someone to come.”
Candidates under review
Now, Solis believes commissioners could hire a police chief out of their list of six candidates during their next meeting, expected to be held in about two weeks.
But first, they plan to conduct background checks, he said.
“All of them have what we’re looking for,” Solis said. “Most of them are retired. They’ve got 25, 30 years’ experience.”
Meanwhile, Solis said he’s pushing to boost officers’ salaries to better compete with the sheriff’s department.
While the city hires police officers at $12 an hour, the sheriff’s department pays $14.
“I would like to raise the pay so they can stay here,” Solis said. “This is just a training post.”