Sheriff's office creates new special operations unit
Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor has a message for criminals: You can run, but you can't hide.
The Victoria County Sheriff's Office is set to unveil its special operations unit, a new unit comprised of about 20 officers ranging from analytical specialists to federal agents.
O'Connor, who refers to it as a matrix, said the unit will tackle everything from cybercrime to trending patterns in crime in the county.
Lt. Tony Daniel will lead the special operations unit, bringing with him almost 25 years of experience with the sheriff's office, including 12 years working as an investigator in the Criminal Investigation Unit.
The proactive approach of the unit is what Daniel said attracted him to the new position.
"We don't react to crime," he said. "We go out there and look for things going on in our streets."
O'Connor said he appointed Daniel because of Daniel's various successes. Most notably, the sheriff cited Daniel's work to close a 16-year-old cold case involving the murder of 19-year-old April Ann Repka.
With the help of numerous agencies, an arrest was made, and the killer, Carlos Zuniga, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison.
O'Connor said that type of effort is what he envisions for the new department.
"There's a need to be proactive, not reactive," he said.
"It's all about social justice, not just criminal justice. Victoria is growing, and we need to plan for the future."
The special operations unit has been part of O'Connor's dream for the sheriff's office since 2005.
The approval from the Victoria County Commissioners Court for four new deputy positions and a new supervisor made his vision a reality.
The budgetary increase for the positions covers four new interdiction deputy salaries of $48,329 a year and a supervisor's salary of $55,000, O'Connor said. A $70,000 grant from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program will cover the salary of the new analyst, O'Connor said. Other grants, in excess of $1 million, will cover costs such as vehicles and equipment.
The Joint Operations Intelligence Center will merge with the special operations unit, O'Connor said, rounding out the department. Eight officers make up the center.
The Victoria County intelligence center is one of six in the state specializing in trafficking. Its original mission was on border security, but O'Connor said when criminal activity is suppressed in larger cities, it tends to move toward outlining areas.
Victoria, he said, is in the middle of a trafficking funnel.
"My goal is to champion for those who can't champion for themselves," he said. "Bringing in this team, the department is more capable than it was nine years ago when I walked in the front door."