According to Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward, the no. 1 role of a sheriff’s office is to provide law enforcement services in areas not covered by municipal police agencies. In other words, all the rural areas and any town that doesn’t have a police department, the ACSO’s responsibility is to provide services in those areas.
“We have countywide jurisdiction, so we have the same jurisdiction in a city as we do outside of the city limits. We try not to do operations in a city without letting the police department know we’re there,” Sheriff Soward said. “We do conduct a lot of drug investigations in the cities, but we always tell the police department what we’re doing or invite them to join us.”
By the Texas Constitution, the sheriff is considered the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county and the keeper of the jail—staffing it, housing it, making it safer for inmates and employees, keeping it state-certified and more.
In March 2021, the ACSO Jail received their 41st consecutive Certificate of Compliance from the Texas Jail Commission following an unannounced inspection by the state agency. It marks the ninth passing of inspection since Sheriff Soward took office in 2013 and the first under new Jail Administrator Mike Benavidez. Sheriff Soward gave credit to his employees for the work it takes to keep the jail up to par.
“It takes a lot of work, and most of that work, I don’t do … it’s done by my employees in the jail. They keep things operating correctly and do their paperwork properly. Operating a jail is probably, I would have to say, the most headaches. So, you need good people in that position helping you run the jail,” Sheriff Soward said.
He also praised his corrections officers.
“The correction officers, their work is so important. Without all of them, it can’t be done. I’m always very thankful for that job because it’s a tough job. We probably have anywhere from 15 to 20 correction officers assaulted a year, and those assaults are usually not bad, but it is a felony,” he said.
The sheriff’s office also has the responsibility of serving civil processes that come out of the county or district courts—subpoenas, divorce, child support, lawsuits, etc.—that is processed by the administrative staff and assigned to a civil deputy. The ACSO is also responsible for countywide communications for law enforcement, EMS, fire and manning 9-1-1. When this came along in the late 1980s, the ACSO increased the number of dispatchers from four to eight. A few years back, Sheriff Soward increased them again to 12 plus a supervisor to have three per shift.
Moving forward, Sheriff Soward says the ACSO is not actively working on any other projects except expanding their number of deputies. Currently, the ACSO has 24 deputies and Sheriff Soward says he needs about four more.
“I’ve been made aware of tremendous growth in the northwest end of the county and also about some subdivisions going in over there that will be completed within the next 18 months of 1,500 homes. So, we’re growing at a rate where it won’t be long before we’re having to ask Commissioners Court to hire more deputies to be able to cover this properly,” Sheriff Soward said.
He explained the ACSO has been struggling for the past two years to stay fully staffed due to the lack of good applicants.
“A lot of them go to places where they may pay a little more, but then they figure out real fast that they micromanage you. I’ve lost people before that come back and say they want their job back because it’s not like working in Atascosa County,” he said. “I would love to be fully staffed and I’m one deputy away from that right now. We’re a real community-oriented law enforcement agency, so you come here, you’re going to be part of the community. People here are so good to us, say so many good things and it’s just a good place to start your career. And if you have visions of going bigger and better down the line, I never fault anybody for that. But, you can come work here for a county law enforcement agency with citizens who will probably love you. It’s a great place because you get to do it all. You’ll work all kinds of crimes and be involved in all kinds of things. So it’s a good deal to work for a place like us.”