Progress In Pleasanton

I remember the day well. I parked my car right at the corner of U.S. Highway 281 and State Highway 97 in Pleasanton. As soon as my boot hit the pavement, I knew I had to do something about the traffic. I was a newly minted police chief in the heart of the Eagle “Furd.” I don’t know why everyone refers to it as “Furd.”

As I stared at the endless stream of sand-hauling 18-wheelers and white Ford F-250 trucks (the official steed of the oilfield supply companies), I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and fear. Our once small town, which was known as the “Birthplace of the Cowboy,” had become a “boom town.” The Eagle Ford Shale had arrived, and from the looks of it, it wasn’t going anywhere.

The sign at the city limit says “Pleasanton: population 8,900.” According to recent estimates, we have swelled to 13,000 residents. While many towns in the Eagle Ford didn’t know what to expect, Pleasanton was waiting at the starting line and waving the green flag.

Driving the welcome wagon was Pleasanton City Manager Bruce Pearson. With his vast knowledge of big city government and a heavy background in the utilities industry, he went to work at a feverish pace, tackling any infrastructure problems head-on. He knew water would be a valuable and precious commodity, so, at the direction of the city council, the city acquired properties in order to drill more water wells. He rallied his troops behind his now well-known battle cry, “Customer service is first and foremost!”

As new businesses arrived, Pleasanton welcomed them all with open arms. According to Pearson, if you were willing to invest in our city, we would darn sure treat you right and see to it that we would provide the necessary means for your business to thrive.

I started my law enforcement career with the City of Pleasanton on Feb. 6, 1997. I was a young, inexperienced police officer with zero street experience. Prior to that, I had worked two-and-a-half years with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Department as a corrections officer. I worked under Sheriff Tommy Williams, who was one of the longest serving sheriffs in Texas.

I was lacking in police knowledge, but I was fully stocked with street knowledge. While I interacted with them, the inmates of Atascosa County Jail unknowingly provided me with a priceless education in their efforts on how to circumvent the law. Going from a corrections officer to a street cop was probably one of the easiest transitions I had ever made. Every call we got and every disturbance we visited, I knew somebody there.

I was at a huge advantage because I knew all of the players in the “let’s break the law” game. I developed informants, I made hundreds of narcotics arrests, I ran search warrants, I did a little bit of undercover work and I was having the time of my life. I was living every cop’s dream.

Then one day it happened: Chief Gary Soward retired. The Eagle Ford had come calling. He was placed in a situation where he could retire with his 37 years of service, work a cushy job and make a substantial amount of money. He took the offer. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would one day lead the department I had dedicated my life to. I was having too much fun. The thought of a new chief coming in scared me.

So I decided to submit my application knowing well that my chances were slim. After a few months as interim chief, I was officially named chief of police on Dec. 6, 2012. I was sworn in at a city council meeting. My mother and father and all of my siblings were present, along with my wife and three kids.

The next morning, I stood there in the parking lot of Hurley’s Funeral Home, which is located at the corner of 281 and 97, wondering, ‘What now?’ According to TxDOT, our traffic had increased 200 percent in the last year. Our roads were crumbling from the heavy 18-wheelers lumbering down them. I knew we could stand back and whine or we could tackle the problem head-on.

Part of our traffic problems came from drivers who had a total disregard for Texas traffic laws. They ran red lights, disregarded stop signs and drove well above the posted speed limits. It was like there was no need to play by the rules. I am a big believer in the “broken windows theory.” You start enforcing the law at the lower levels and work your way up. If someone runs a red light, you enforce the traffic law. If they disregard a stop sign, they receive a traffic citation and a visit with Pleasanton Municipal Court Judge Elsie Guerra.

I created a fulltime traffic enforcement unit. I took two patrol officers off of the street and assigned them to fulltime traffic enforcement. Instead of running to the endless stream of disturbances, thefts and traffic accidents, their sole responsibility was traffic enforcement.

Now, what do we stand to gain from such strict traffic enforcement? Perhaps we could instill in our motoring public an acute awareness to slow down and pay attention. What is the payoff for creating increasingly aware drivers? Fewer traffic accidents. So many traffic accidents are caused by distracted drivers – or should I say, texting drivers. Our mission was to help create safe drivers through traffic enforcement. If it means we prevent a traffic fatality, it was all worth it. After all, the objective of any police department is the safety of our citizens. We all swore a solemn oath to protect and serve our communities.

Shortly after becoming chief, I received a phone call from Rebel Road Studios in New York. They were filming a TV series called “Boom Town Cops.” They wanted to show the rest of the world what it was like to be a police officer in an oil boom town. According to the producer, when he asked about oil boom towns, he was constantly being diverted to Pleasanton. I told him “no thanks” for now because we had other things we needed to get a handle on. Hollywood could wait.

Every time I go to a police chief conference, I am asked if we are experiencing a significant increase in crime because of the “oilfield trash,” which, by the way, is a term I take offense to because my wife is employed in the oil and gas industry. It was like they all wanted me to tell them stories of how our town was being pillaged and plundered by our newly acquired transient population. The RV parks and man camps are supposed to be a nightmare with shootings and stabbings every night. Nope.

What people fail to realize is that the vast majority of our new residents are hardworking family men and women who are capitalizing on the opportunity to provide for their faraway families by working hard every day. These folks are too tired to cause any trouble. They sleep, wake up, go to work, go home and repeat the process for several weeks in a row. Sure, we’ve had a few problems here and there, but nothing worthy of a TV series.

I like to refer to it as the “new and improved oilfield.” The majority of the horror stories stem from the booms of the 1980s. Today’s petroleum industry has a few simple rules every employee needs to follow. The main one is, “You do drugs; you’re fired.” Simple, but effective.

What started out as a small town police department has swelled to a 23-man police department – and by the way, we have three lady officers. I know we have many challenges ahead of us. We will not falter. We will face them head-on, and we will fight to protect Pleasanton and make it a city you would want to raise your family in.

I feel blessed to be where I am today. I’m working alongside a city council, a mayor and a city manager who genuinely care for their community. The “Birthplace of the Cowboy” is in its prime right now, and we are headed in the right direction. We are not afraid of progress; we welcome it.

I wish I had an answer for all of the naysayers who have stood in the background grumbling, “Once the boom leaves, then what?” I don’t know, but I hope that one day, 25 years from now (after I retire), I can look those naysayers straight in the eye and ask them, “Why did everyone call it ‘Eagle Furd’ when it’s spelled ‘Eagle Ford?’”