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Technology drives San Marcos police post-meet & confer

San Marcos Chief of Police Stan Standridge with his wife Beth at a recent Rotary Club of San Marcos lunch meeting.
Daily Record photo by Barbara Audet

Technology drives San Marcos police post-meet & confer

SMPD Chief Stan Standridge speaks at Rotary meeting.
Daily Record photo by Barbara Audet

Technology drives San Marcos police post-meet & confer

Sunday, June 4, 2023

With a new meet and confer agreement approved for the officers he leads, San Marcos Police Department Chief Stan Standridge came to a recent meeting of the San Marcos Rotary Club to bring its members up to date on his goals and insights regarding public safety in the community.

He said that the department has a new laser beam focus on utilizing technology to keep the city ahead of problems associated with its rapidly growing population.

First, Standridge told the audience that he has agreed to a new five-year commitment to the chief’s role, despite what he said were initially “remarkable odds.” He said those odds were based on what he faced day one: the gravity of what was happening in this city.

For the police veteran who began his career in Abilene in 1995, he discussed what the department had been through prior to his taking the job in November 2020 and what occurred shortly after. High profile legal issues have dogged his first years here as well as the repercussions from serious accidents to officers and the still recent loss of two officers in the line of duty.

The department had its first line of duty death in December 2017 when Officer Kenneth Copeland, father of four, was killed while serving an arrest warrant while working overtime on his day off. In 2019, Officer Claudia Cormier was responding to an accident on I-35 when she was struck by a driver and lost her leg, sustaining other injuries that required multiple surgeries over a lengthy recovery. She has since returned to the force and the driver who hit her was charged with intoxication, assault on a public servant and failure to slow causing serious bodily injury. Other morale-affect- ing incidents impacted the department, but the loss of 31-year-old Officer Justin R. Putnam, who had joined SMPD in 2014 becoming the second member of the force to die in the line of duty was especially hard. Putnam with two fellow officers was ambushed while responding on an assault/ domestic violence call in April 2020. He died at the scene. Standridge said when he came on board in 2020, Putnam had still not been laid to rest.

And then there was COVID-19. “There was no script for a pandemic,” Standridge said.

In coming to San Marcos, Standridge said he initially thought this would be a place where he “could catch my breath.” Not the case, he added.

What he saw was needed was a plan to create systems to address what had been unaddressed trauma among the ranks, he said.

The chief said his role today is predicated upon building a system and a culture of accountability, while at the same time, establishing a place where candidates could be motivated to apply for open positions within the department.

“Folks, I’m excited,” he said, adding that the department “was hungry for leadership and stewardship,” when he first put on the San Marcos shield of office.

He still is dealing with a deeply divided community– visible during the recent Meet and Confer negotiations that took place throughout the spring, where many called for a series of reforms which would address police transparency and conduct oversight. These reforms were sought to be included in the new agreement with the city of San Marcos. That agreement with two key reforms but not all of the Hartman Reforms was approved by city council in May. The Hartman Reforms came about following a collision between a vehicle driven by former SMPD Sgt. Ryan Hartman and a vehicle driven by Pamela Watts. A passenger in Watts’ vehicle, her partner Jennifer Miller, died. Hartman was never charged in connection to that accident or death although body camera video from the day of the accident showed an open beer container in the officer’s vehicle.

As the department prepares to move forward while still facing legal action, in Standridge’s view, the department is “healthier today.”

He said that the police department has invested approximately $120,000 to purchase and employ two types of surveillance cameras, some overt and others covert. Of these, many are Flock cameras, designed to provide video useful in identifying and prosecuting the proliferation of drive by shootings underway in the city. He said that what is happening is “toxic shooting” on a regular basis, which the new technology is specifically designed to cover.

Overt or visible cameras will be identifiable by red and/or blue lights. Covert cameras are just that–meant to do the work stealthily. These cameras are designed to capture the rear of the vehicle, reading car license plates and other details to identify stolen cars or illegal licensing–what is called vehicular evidence. He called the cameras “game-changers.” The chief did not specify the locations of these cameras during his talk.

“That is why we have built an electronic perimeter fence around San Marcos, to capture all those cars coming in,” he said. “We had a couple from Houston decide to rob at gunpoint an ATM resupplier. We had him filmed and in custody within four hours of that aggravated robbery.”

The city’s population has increased by 42% and with those numbers, comes a second statistic: a 151% increase in assault offenses.

He told the audience that the department does not respond to fender benders, as a result of the need to have a broader priority in light of those daunting statistics. Standridge said there are approximately 4,200 crashes annually within the city’s perimeter.

Then there is the potential that the student body at Texas State University will increase to as many as 50,000 students in the next decade and how to cope with the stresses in law enforcement that will accompany that growth.

The average age of individuals coming to San Marcos to commit crimes is from 14-22, he said, noting the largest number of offenders are coming from Houston, followed by Austin and then, San Antonio. One-third or approximately 29.3 percent of offenders committing crimes here are not from the city, he explained.

Among his steps as chief, he said is the creation of the Event Review Board that looks at every questionable action by officers and adding a paid chaplain to the force. Chaplains are in short supply for many police departments and for the U.S. Armed Forces facing a lack of counselors for mental health, and a high rate of suicide among its branches.

Within days of his speaking, the department announced on social media that eight new officers were on board, with one of those a lateral hire from another department. He said that the pay rate for officers in San Marcos makes it a location that is able wwto attract a better group of officer candidates. Prior to adding these officers, Standridge said recent vacancies meant “1/5 of my work force did not exist.” For dispatch positions, that situation was worse. He said there has been a 40-60% shortage in personnel handling communication and dispatch.

San Marcos Record

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