McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara says he has been overwhelmed with community support after posting to social media his idea to form a “posse.”
McNamara posted to the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page on Wednesday that he was interested in forming a volunteer community group to assist the office in certain cases. In about 24 hours, his post was shared almost 60 times, received more than 400 “likes” and got almost 90 comments.
That doesn’t even include the nonstop phone calls the office took from residents in support of the idea, McNamara said.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed by the response. I really am.”
McNamara posted on Facebook: “During my campaign for sheriff, there were hundreds of supporters who became my ‘Posse’ and helped me to become your McLennan County Sheriff. Now, I want to take the next step and continue the tradition of the ‘Posse’.”
Because of the high level of interest, McNamara said, he’s moving forward with the project.
The “McLennan County Sheriff’s Posse” will be unpaid volunteers — who have passed a background check — working to help law enforcement and residents in the community. Plans for the program are “even more premature than infancy,” McNamara said.
The idea is that the volunteer group could help in finding missing children or elderly or in the recovery of drowning victims. McNamara said multiple people called to offer their assistance and the use of their own horses, all-terrain vehicles and boats as part of the posse.
McNamara said the members would not be enforcing laws or making arrests, but assisting law enforcement. He said he will have a better idea of what all those duties will entail as the sheriff’s office continues to firm up specifics.
“Like the West explosion, if we had access to many more people to help us up there, it would have been a good thing,” he said.
WPD citizens academy
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said the Waco Police Department, which runs a “citizens academy,” is constantly encouraging residents to get to know police officers and their duties better by joining its volunteer community groups that assist local law enforcement. Programs like McNamara’s proposed posse can be valuable assets for law enforcement, he said.
“We can’t do it alone,” Swanton said. “We have to have our citizens out here helping us. Every one that we train or touch or talk to, to get them out there to help us is an extra set of eyes out there to keep our city safe.”
Tommy Morris, 49, of Speegleville, said he thinks the program is a great idea.
Morris said he’s participated in the Waco PD’s citizens academy class and also volunteers for the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, so this group would be an extension of what he already does. Morris, a department manager for H-E-B, said he has lived in the county his entire life and thinks the group will continue to attract interest as it comes into formation. Morris said he the group could serve as a neighborhood watch-type program and help law enforcement during parades, football games and community events.
Tom Lindsey, 57, of Woodway, said there are pros and cons to the idea of the program.
Volunteers would need to be regulated in some fashion and receive appropriate training to avoid individuals with a “Rambo mentality,” he said. But, the idea of having so many volunteers on hand at large events or during searches could be a good idea, Lindsey said.
“I think as much as you can get the community involved is a good thing,” he said.
Swanton said Waco PD’s volunteer group, Citizens on Patrol, helps the department in searches for missing children, holds barbecue fundraisers to raise money for the department and also write handicap parking tickets while driving a volunteer vehicle that looks like a marked police car.
Each volunteer has to pass a background check and undergo regular training, he said.
“Obviously we wouldn’t want criminals or felons or someone with questionable character representing us,” he said.
McNamara said he’s talked to sheriffs from several other counties — including Bell, Johnson and Parker — to learn how others’ groups have worked and the best policies to have in place.
“Basically, what it is, is a way to get the community a little more involved in assisting with the safety of our citizens,” he said.
The creation of the group will be slow, McNamara said.
“We are taking a long hard look at it. We’re going to take our time to make sure we’re doing the right thing and get the right people in there,” he said.
Deputy Danie Huffman, the Parker County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said she can’t say enough good things about the Parker County Sheriff’s Posse, which was formed in 1947.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t run the group, though, and its members have no law enforcement capabilities, she said. The group participates in parades, works largely at the local rodeo and has won awards for its community work.
“Posses these days are really not the same as posses years ago,” she said.
Sheriff’s offices have used posses for 200 years, McNamara said.
“This should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “If it’s done in the right way, I think it could be a very good thing.”