Texas town pulls the plug on police department

UNITED STATES, Hidalgo, Texas: A sheriff's car (AFP Photo / Scott Olson)
Attention gun-toting Texas natives: if you were looking to go a’looting, your time is now!

City Council members in Alto, Texas, a town of around 1,200, have voted to abolish the city’s police department for at least six months as the community considers if they will be able to afford the force into 2012.

As of June 15, Alto is being run by the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, whose headquarters are around 12 miles north of town. With only two dozen employees on the force there, overseeing security in the city of Alto will be a burden on the 1,000-square-mile stretch of land that the department is already in charge of.

"I'm going to try, but I can't guarantee you there will always be an officer in the town," says Sheriff James Campbell to the Wall Street Journal.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department is also the sole enforcer in Wells, Texas, which has a population of around 800. Earlier this year they relieved their only police officer.

Alto Mayor Monty Collins was against the measure, and he says now that the town’s citizens are instructing others to “bolt your doors” and “buy a gun.”

City Council officials in Alto calculate a budget shortfall of around $185,000 for the fiscal year ending on September 30, but note that it costs about $230,000 to run the town’s PD.

"We had to do something drastic," says Jerry Flowers to WSJ. Flowers is both a councilman and hay farmer in Alto. "The police department, being a non-money-making entity, was the easiest to get rid of while we catch our breath and build up some cash."

Apparently the council was given the choice of funding the police department or repairing the city-owned natural gas distribution system. With the latter generating most of the city’s revenue, it was an easy decision for lawmakers.

Charles Barron, however, feels otherwise. As Alto police chief, Barron says that the per-capita crime rate in 2010 exceeded the statewide level. The city was subjected to 66 reported crimes that year, including two dozen burglaries and 39 larcenies.

An antiquated printing press used by an Alto newspaper has been moved to a nearby museum in the meantime to protect it from looters.