Under new leadership, Mathis PD gears up to face public scrutiny

Knowing of the multiple issues the police department faces, Mathis Interim Police Chief Scott Roush is taking strides to make the department more transparent.

MATHIS – When Mathis Interim Police Chief Scott Roush took over duties for the police department, he may not have known what he was in for following the public scrutiny the former police chief wrought.

Roush hit the ground running when he was hired in late March, posting on the department’s Facebook on April 27, that the police station lobby would be closed from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. due to lack of a dispatcher, but the department was not closed. Instead, the interim chief used connections with the sheriff’s office to have them handle the calls at night.

The chief wrote in the same post, “However I would like to report to you that this department has filled all dispatch positions. These dispatchers will undergo a training period to ensure you are provided with a professional service.

“It is my goal to operate a community-oriented, professional and friendly service to our community. I invite anyone who has questions or concerns to visit me at the police department.”

On June 17, a letter by former Mathis Police Department employee Isabel M. Rivera, who brought concerns against the former chief of police to the city council’s attention last December and was questioned, along with other former employees, in January by the city council, city manager and city attorney, was sent to the council and city manager.

In that letter, Rivera wrote of multiple concerns, one being about the position at the department she felt she was forced to leave due to hostile working conditions.

One of the issues was that she wasn’t notified, or never saw job postings, for the administrative assistant position which she left last year.

The letter read, “I waited patiently to see if any of you all were going to inform me about the position being open, as you all were very well informed that back in December 2018 I requested my position to be reinstated upon the departure of Pedro Saenz and Rhonda Payne. The position was not posted for anyone to apply. The position had been filled a few days after the termination of Rhonda Payne.”

The letter went on to say that Roush hired a friend for the position and that it would make sense since the job was never posted.

Another issue dealt with dispatch and Roush’s Facebook post by saying, “This issue is very concerning to me because I know that the police interim chief has expressed to the community that they are training new dispatchers and that very soon they should be on their own doing their job and trained professionally. His statement is false as I have witnessed all dispatchers in training all together at once, in the morning shift 6 a.m.-6 p.m.  (Time sheets are the best area to look into to see this.)  How can you be training professionally if they are not getting one-on-one training?  How can you evaluate one if one is watching you; this process is not the correct way to train someone who has no knowledge ever in dispatch.”

Roush said that what he brought with him to Mathis was a relationship with the sheriff’s office and other surrounding agencies because he’s been in the area for a long time.

“So all we had to do was reach out to the sheriff and say, ‘Look we need help. I have one dispatcher,’ and they said absolutely... They really helped us out.

“But we were able to staff our dispatch within three weeks. And that’s a task because you really have to find quality people that are trainable, and will adapt to that kind of position.

“And that’s harder than it sounds.

“But we were able to do it and we staffed our dispatch and we trained them in a group and individually – whatever fits the needs of this department at the time. We found that it was effective.”

The letter does make some damning claims against Roush – both personally and professionally – but overall it does seem to take into account the real issues facing Mathis and its police department: There’s a high turnover rate at the department, including the position of police chief, and a large portion of the citizens feel like they can’t trust the city’s police.

“What we need to convey to the community is that this is a transparent department,” Roush said. “We will not do anything behind closed doors. And if the community wants to know what we’re doing, they are more than welcome to walk through that front door and come here and watch what we do.

“I encourage the citizens to come out and ride with the officers. 

“Really. Come out and ride with us.

“You want to see what a detective does, come hang out with our detective and watch what he does during the day. 

“This is the community’s police department ultimately. And that’s a fact. So if they want to come here, they’re more than welcome here, and they shouldn’t be shunned away. I feel like maybe that’s what has happened in the past. So the community doesn’t feel welcome here.

“Even if you’ve been critical of the department, come see us. We will show you what we do and what’s going on here.

“This is a transparent department. This is a community-oriented style policing that we need, and we’re trying to get there.

“We’re going to get there.”