North Texas town fires most of its police department

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 26, 2010 at 7:07 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 26 at 7:17 AM

COMBINE — The North Texas town of Combine is on the Dallas-Kaufman county line. The community, with a population of 2,159, had a police force of 13 on Saturday.

On Sunday, that number was down to two, and some officers dismissed on Saturday night say politics is behind the City Council's action.

Joe Garza's small ranch is filled with years of hard work, but to him, his horses are also targets.

"They'll steal 'em... they'll be gone in no time," he said.

It's a concern shared by others in this tiny town 35 miles southeast of Dallas after the City Council decided Saturday night to fire 11 of the town's 13 police officers.

"It was really more of a 'fit' situation, in that we had police officers who had come here that really didn't fit into a small town policing situation," explained City Council member Tim Ratcliff.

City leaders said the dismissals were partly to save money, and partly to bring in new blood.

"I mean, you would think that we were back in the 1800s, and they were some gung-ho sheriff," said combine resident Brian Wade, who was critical of the Council's unanimous action.

The decision was especially stinging for the fired cops like Mateo Villareal. He and most of the others were volunteer officers, patrolling the town for free.

"You go out there and you selflessly put your life on the line for something that you love to do, and then — all of a sudden — you receive notice of this meeting," Villareal said. "Three days later, you're gone. It's just not right."

Town leaders insist that Combine did not need all that protection, and that patrols by sheriff's deputies will provide better protection.

But some officers also blame small-town politics. Some of the officers said they were investigating two Council members for minor crimes. They feel that the force was wiped out in retaliation.

Ratcliff denies that assertion. "There was an attempt made to intimidate the Council," he said. "I think they'll be smart not to say anything else about that, and I'll be smart enough, too."

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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