Leadership Lockhart program goes behind the badge
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
First there was the call to help deliver a baby in a rural part of Caldwell County. From there they went to a call about illegal squatters on private property. After all the excitement they went to get a soda and snacks at the Family Dollar and found two abandoned dogs. The pair got the dogs some water and waited for Animal Control to take the pups.
No, this wasn’t an episode of Cops. It was a recap from a ride along Leadership Lockhart participant Kristi Baumbach gave during the Jan. 28 class at the Caldwell County Justice Center.
In preparation for the class on law enforcement participants went on a ride along with a member of the Caldwell County Sheriff. Some participants reported quiet shifts. Others reported tending to cows who were loose on the roads. Few had as interesting a day as Baumbach.
“Their service to the community is way beyond traffic violations,” Baumbach said in an interview with LPR. “They are forging relationships with communities and they know the histories of many families and communities in the county. That knowledge allows them to serve our community in a way that is very effective.”
The idea behind the ride along wasn’t just to get great stories to share. The Lockhart Chamber of Commerce program is designed to train local leaders by giving them the knowledge and the skills to develop a stronger community. From August to May participants take a once-per-month class on topics from city and county government, to education, to economic development.
“We felt it was important to cover all the bases on what it takes to be involved in a community and to be a leader in a community,” Chamber President/CEO Kim Clifton said in an interview with LPR. “To understand your local law enforcement is a big part of that.”
The Lockhart Police Department typically gives a tour of the police station to help support programs like this, but COVID restrictions didn’t allow for the group to visit on-site. Instead, Captain Jesse Bell created a video showing all the areas of the station the group would have visited.
The video showed the patrol car, the gear an officer has inside, and even how the lights and radar work. The video brought participants inside police headquarters, going from the briefing room, to the interview room, to the lab where they process fingerprints, and even showing where 911 calls are taken.
Participants were allowed to ask Lockhart Police Chief Ernesto Pedraza questions on any topic. He was open, honest, candid, and didn’t shy away from tough questions. A participant asked about a pit maneuver, a police tactic used to end car chases by hitting the fleeing vehicle. They are often seen in helicopter videos in major cities like Los Angeles.
Chief Pedraza tapped into his 40 years of policing, opened up on the dangers of police chases. He noted the dangers to other drivers, particularly pedestrians, as well as to his officers. He said he advises his officers to use discretion, giving chase when a serious crime has been committed.
Participants asked about crime in the city and he noted traffic, assaults, and drugs, particularly marijuana at the high school, were the major issues.
“The more information I can get out to them so they can better understand police work and how police officers work, all the better for both the community and for the police department,” Chief Pedraza said in an interview with LPR. “The whole purpose is to develop trust between the community and the police.”
New Caldwell County Sheriff Mike Lane gave the afternoon presentation, offering a similar open look into the Sheriff’s Office. He candidly spoke about the challenges of patrolling the 541 square miles inside the county with four deputies and one sergeant per shift.
He also took suggestions from the participants. When the idea of a Citizens Academy came up, as it had during the morning session with LPD, Sheriff Lane said it was something the Office had done under the previous Sheriff. It was something Sheriff Lane said he would like to start again to keep the lines of communication open with the community.
“It’s all about communication,” Sheriff Lane said in an interview with LPR. “In everything we do, in our day-to-day activities, the more you communicate about what you are doing, the more response—positive or negative—you are going to get back.”
Following the candid Q&A with the class he gave the participants a tour of the newest patrol car, as well as the Office’s MRAP vehicle. The military grade vehicle is used by the county for flood rescues and moving officers, according to Sheriff Lane.
Military grade vehicles used by law enforcement had received negative press, particularly over the summer when there were riots in many major cities. But Sheriff Lane said he wanted participants to see it and understand how it would be used in the county.
“The better and the more open I am at the Sheriff’s Office, the better response I’m going to get,” Sheriff Lane said.