Toy boy

Tarrant County Sheriff David Williams lusts for helicopters, Chevy Tahoes, and machine guns, but in the hands of used car parts baron Ed Max, Williams is the ultimate cop toy

At the same time, Williams has done a number of things that seem designed to cheer the Christian right: His first year in office, he defended a segregated unit for religious inmates known as the God pod. In January 1996, Williams balked at allowing guards to transport a pregnant woman who was serving time for drug possession to an abortion clinic to terminate her 11-week-old pregnancy. Despite criticism from civil libertarians, he has allowed inmate work crews to work at churches, and earlier this year conducted high-profile raids of more than a dozen adult-oriented businesses. His weekly management meetings begin with a prayer, several deputies say.

Meanwhile, Williams put the department in new black uniforms and awarded himself four stars--four on each collar, four on each epaulet for a total of 16 shiny gold stars. Completing what one deputy dubbed his "Mexican general" look, he pinned on his chest service ribbons from his police days: a lifesaving ribbon he got in Perry, Oklahoma, in 1979; a ribbon commemorating his membership in the Texas Congress of PTAs; a community-service ribbon for his work on crime-watches in Haltom City; and his certification as a licensed Texas peace officer.

The military tenor Williams brought to the department extended itself to the airing of videotapes depicting Civil War battles and aircraft carriers at several staff meetings, two former deputies say. One deputy recalls seeing Victory at Sea, replete with naval warfare, and one video on the battle of Gettysburg.

Relates a former deputy: "One day at the command meeting he pops in a videotape of one of these big Civil War battles; guys killing each other, generals riding around on horses. We're all aghast. Even the lieutenants are ribbing each other asking, 'What's going on?' After it's over, we go right into the normal boring agenda, you know, something like how many vacancies we have. There was no explanation of what this was all about. The next week, it's aircraft carriers with planes landing and taking off. I thought, 'There's something I'm missing here.'"

Wilder says criticism comes with the job. "It's a miserable job; you have 1,300 employees on three different shifts; and three deputies associations that act like unions with all the backbiting that entails. When all is said and done, David has made some tremendously beneficial changes to the department."

The most frequently cited example is a vast increase in the number of warrants served by the department, which has the duty of tracking down all types of fugitives and absconders.

Lt. Dan Cauble, who heads the warrants division, said the backlog of unserved warrants went from about 30,000 in 1995 to 15,830 today. Williams himself designed the new system, which brought new efficiencies by dividing the work of locating suspects, serving the warrants, and transporting the prisoners to jail, Cauble says.

While Williams and his allies boast that they have also taken a bigger bite out of crime in unincorporated areas of the county where they patrol, records of arrests--as reported to the Texas Department of Public Safety--suggest that the effort may not be all that it's cracked up to be.

Arrests are indeed way up, from 627 in 1992--the year that Minter managed the department when Carpenter was awaiting trial--to 1,262 in 1997, the state statistics show.

But most of the increase came for crimes such as drunkenness or marijuana possession, or non-felony assault. In the last year of Carpenter's regime, 170 people were arrested for drunkenness, which is a different offense than driving while intoxicated. Last year, Williams' deputies arrested 504 people for drunkenness, a whopping 40 percent of the sheriff's department total arrests for the year.

Meanwhile, arrests for such crimes as burglary and murder are down from 1992. In 1992, Tarrant County deputies made 37 burglary arrests; last year they made six. In 1992, deputies arrested three murder suspects. Last year they arrested one.

Deputies arrested six people last year for car theft; in 1992 there were four.

Between 1993 and 1997, the Tarrant County jail population--which dictates much of the sheriff's budget--fell 23 percent, but the budget grew by nearly a fifth, and some of Williams' former allies have grown impatient with his management.

Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson, a Republican who counted himself among Williams' most ardent supporters, says he used to talk to the sheriff three or more times a week. "I support law enforcement," says Johnson, talking in his office in the western suburb of Lake Worth. "I supported most of the sheriff's initiatives. But for some reason, he seemed to just cut off communications."

It happened just after the September 17 crash of one of the department's military surplus OH-58 Bell Ranger helicopters at an airstrip out on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries compound, Johnson says. Federal crash investigators have not yet issued their report on the cause of the accident, which killed two deputies. Besides the sheriff's explanation that the helicopter had been at the Copeland compound in connection with an auto-theft investigation, an article in FW Weekly, citing unnamed sources, said the craft was taking aerial videotapes for Copeland, Williams' old boss and a $2,500 contributor to the sheriff's last campaign.

As Johnson runs down some of the details of the sheriff's staffing, budgeting, and automobile fleet, it becomes clear he's grown weary of some of the inefficiencies in Williams' department.

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