With arrest restrictions now being eased up at the Matagorda County Jail, Bay City Police Chief Robert Lister said Thursday, May 21 residents should expect to see more suspects being placed into the jail system.
Lister said during the early stages of the pandemic there were restrictions placed on departments about arrests that might result in a suspect being placed in the Matagorda County Jail. Lister said those restrictions were put in place by Matagorda County Sheriff Frank “Skipper” Osborne.
“He did place restrictions on what offenses could be arrested for but some of those restrictions were lifted Wednesday, May 20,” Lister said. “We can now take people into custody for lower level offenses than what we were allowed before. Prior to May 20, we were able to just get warrants on individuals that we would file on them once the pandemic was over.”
Lister said that did present a challenge to the department in the way it dealt with situations during the pandemic and in some cases made it very difficult to deal with.
“It has been hard,” Lister said. “We just want the public to know we are doing everything we can do right now. I don’t want them to think we are not doing our job because our hands were tied on those lower level offenses because we couldn’t take anyone to the jail until we got the okay from the sheriff.”
The Texas Jail Commission sent out recommendations for all the county jails when the pandemic broke out. Each sheriff from each county then would place restrictions on suspects being arrested and placed in the jail system due to a threat of a COVID-19 outbreak occurring in the jail.
Included in the standards that were released included “explore options with local arresting agencies regarding ‘cite and release’ for those who commit non-violent crimes in order to reduce number of individuals booked into the facility.
“We are not fully 100 percent back to normal,” Lister said. “They have loosened the restrictions on who they will take now. They won’t take everybody yet but we have come a long ways towards taking some lower level offenses.”
Lister said the changes to the jail and the issue of protecting officers and staff from contracting COVID-19 were a challenge for the department.
“It just made things harder on how we handle procedures on the lower level cases and making sure all of the officers were protected from getting the virus has made more difficult than normal,” Lister said.
Lister also said since the public plea to end gun violence and gain more information on the city’s recent murders, information has slowly been trickling into the department and suspects are now being sought in connection with the murders.
“We do have some suspects in other cases and we are still conducting some investigations but we are still trying to get more people to come in with more information,” Lister said. “We have had a lot of people come in with more information.”
Lister said the lines of communication between the police department and the public has opened up “a little bit.”
“We have people coming in daily and it is taking a lot of work to get where we are at right now,” Lister said.
One issue that was brought up during press conference was the amount of shots fired calls that come into the police department. This year already, the department has answered more than 100 calls for shots fired to about 30 being recorded for the same time last year.
“We are still having a few calls but a lot of these calls come in and we don’t find anything,” Lister said. “We don’t have any cars, houses or people being hit by the gun fire but just shots being fired and it has slowed down quite a bit here recently.
“I have lived in the city for a number of years and I will be outside my residence and I will hear shots fired but we have so many homes near the county line that you will hear a rifle round go off in the county and it sounds like it is in the backyard,” Lister said. “I am not saying shots are not being fired in the city but I believe a number of the shots are from outside in the county.”
Lister said during the pandemic, the department has seen a rise in the number of citations for domestic violence but he also believes they are “not more than normal.”
“We haven’t see any increase in any crime during the pandemic other than shots being fired at this time,” Lister said.