By STEFAN MODRICH
Fort Bend County voters had the opportunity to learn about who they might choose to be their next county sheriff when the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce held a Facebook Live forum for the two candidates running to succeed Troy Nehls, who is stepping down to run for the seat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson is vacating in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.
Republican Trever Nehls, the twin brother of Troy, and Democrat Eric Fagan are vying to become the county’s top law enforcement official.
Trever Nehls previously served with the Sugar Land Police Department and is now the Fort Bend County Precinct 4 Constable. He was also a U.S. Army Colonel.
Fagan worked as a background investigator in the Recruiting Division of the Houston Police Department, the Internal Affairs Alternative Dispute Resolution Division, and as a community liaison.
Both candidates were asked about what measures they would employ to counter human trafficking in their jurisdiction.
“We will work very aggressively against anyone that operates any type of sex operations in our county,” Nehls said. “With respect to human trafficking, the sheriff’s office has a 24/7 hotline … in addition to two detectives assigned for human or sex trafficking. Additionally, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office has a detective assigned for internet crimes against children. As your next sheriff, we will look at the statistical data that comes into Fort Bend County and address any issues in a very proactive manner in Fort Bend County to ensure all children and people are safe.”
In response, Fagan said Troy Nehls neglected human trafficking during his time as sheriff.
“As your next sheriff, I will work alongside the (district attorney), the county judge, and other law enforcement agencies to stop this blight in our county,” Fagan said. “We must work together, no matter if we are Republican or Democrat.”
Asked how he would improve the sheriff’s department, Fagan proposed to lower the inmate capacity of county jails.
“What I’m talking about doing is smart policing,” Fagan said. “People are being arrested for minor offenses that could instead get a Class-C ticket. Putting them in jail, (taxpayers) are paying for their fine, for their housekeeping, paying a deputy to watch them, and being housed and medical expenses. We must do things to lower the jail population.”
Trever Nehls cited a Niche ranking that had Fort Bend County as the second-best place to live of Texas’ 254 counties and said public safety plays a significant role in the county being highly-regarded as a place to call home.
Nehls said he would look to improve the department’s understanding of mental health and responding to crises.
“We will continue to analyze the data about the mental health issues facing Fort Bend County, our state and our country,” Nehls said. “We’ll take some analysis and ascertain, do we need to increase the number of (Crisis Intervention Teams) that respond to those in crisis? And if so, it will be one of my top priorities.”
Both candidates said they were in favor of using body cameras. Fagan said he would seek federal grants to ensure all patrol deputies were equipped with them.
“I want body cameras because they protect the officers and the citizens as well,” Fagan said. “This is something we should use to help parties. As your sheriff, this would be one of my first priorities.”
Nehls, who has been the Precinct 4 Constable for eight years, said his office is already using them and would continue to do so on a countywide basis. He said he would work with the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court to fund the cameras.
“Body cameras are essential in today’s law enforcement field,” Nehls said. “It will be my first priority if elected as your county sheriff.”
Asked about racial profiling practices within the Fort Bend County Narcotics Task Force, which is overseen by the sheriff’s office, and a Houston Chronicle investigation that found Latino drivers were stopped disproportionately by the task force, Nehls said he would not tolerate any form of racial profiling or discrimination.
Nehls said according to a 2019 report from the sheriff’s office, 15 percent of those pulled over in the 22,990 traffic stops logged were Hispanic or Latino.
Fagan said in response that African Americans are eight times more likely to be pulled over and Hispanics are three times more likely to be pulled over compared to whites.
Among the reforms Fagan suggested were improved community policing and a citizen’s review board to oversee the department and hold it accountable.
“We must have better community policing,” Fagan said. “Currently at the sheriff’s department, minorities in positions on the command staff, it’s hard to find. Children need to see people like them in those positions.”
Nehls responded that there were multiple community policing programs in Fort Bend County, including “Kids & Cops” and collaboration between officers and homeowners associations.
“There is great community-oriented policing in Fort Bend County,” Nehls said.