Officer Paul Lehmann with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department discussed how his department is helping to “Build a Better World” during “Tea with the Sheriff,” hosted at the East Irving Library on Thursday, July 27.
During the presentation, Lehmann first went over services the Sheriff’s Department is required by law to provide. These services include keeping the Dallas County Jail, serving warrants and subpoenas, coordinating extradition of prisoners, and providing bailiffs for county and city courts. While these services are necessary for any Sheriff’s Department, Lehmann wants to focus on the programs that are not required by law but were created by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department to help the community.
“If a judge tells you to go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), people go to AA because they’re told to and they want to get out,” Lehmann said. “Even though we offer AA, for all the good it does, that’s been left out of the kind of things I put in to the ‘Build a Better World’ (program). These are the things that the Sheriff’s Department is trying to do, on its own, to ease the workload and ease problems we’re finding in the community.”
One of those problem-solving services is the homeless diversion program, which is designed to help homeless and/or mentally impaired individuals stay out of jail and get into programs that can help them.
“If you are mentally ill or homeless and picked up on the kinds of charges that mentally ill and homeless people tend to get picked up on, which is shoplifting, trespassing, things like that, there is a program in place now to identify you and will divert you over to a judge who will let you out of jail without bond, on the condition you go to drug counseling or you go to mental health services,” Lehmann said. A similar program was also created to assist prostitutes, offering to let them go free if they agree to seek help for whatever initially drove them to prostitution.
Lehmann discussed many other services the department provides, from education and vocational training for inmates, to roadside assistance with the Courtesy Patrol, to community outreach with programs such as Citizens’ Academy, Homes for Hounds and Kids and Cops. Many of these services came about as a result of officers observing problems in the community and deciding to do something about them.
“One of the things about working in law enforcement that I will say is probably a benefit – you don’t have to complain,” Lehmann said. “If you get involved in this line of work, a lot of times you can actually do something about the things you’re complaining about.”
Rose Mary Cortez, branch manager of the East Irving Library, organized the event as part of the library’s “Build a Better World” summer reading program. She said after hearing about the many programs the Sheriff’s Department provides, she wanted to let the public know about them.
“I had heard about the different programs [the Sheriff’s Department] offers our community, and so many of them we are not aware of as just general citizens,” Cortez said. “This was a good opportunity for us to let everybody else know what a wonderful job they’re doing to build a better world in our community.”
Cortez feels events like this are important to help improve the public’s perception of law enforcement as a whole.
“I think if more people knew about [these programs], it would really help our community to make a better contact with them and to understand they’re not just sitting in an office or giving out tickets,” she said. “They’re really helping our community.”
Judith Osegueda, a clerk at Cedar Valley College and a criminal justice student, was very impressed by all the different services the Sheriff’s Department offers.
“I didn’t realize how much the Sheriff’s Department did for taxpayers,” Osegueda said. She would like to see more law enforcement outreach to the Hispanic community as well as the public at large. “I feel that my people are not well informed, even me. I used to be intimidated by sheriffs because they have a reputation of being mean. It’s really good to have the first-hand information and know that they’re not here just to pull me over, give me a ticket, and put me in jail.”