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Frio County’s new sheriff hopes to restore public trust in revamped agency
“I am not going to sit here and use those buzz words that people want to hear; I am a straight shooter,” Frio County’s newly elected Sheriff Mike Morse says as he takes his cowboy hat off and sits in an office chair.
It is often said that timing is everything, and with Morse’s career spanning various law enforcement positions, he believed the timing was right last year to make a bid for the sheriff’s job.
“I knew when I moved to Pearsall in the late nineties that I was one day going to run for sheriff,” he says. “I felt this connection to the community and wanted to do the right thing because I felt like I had the ability and initiative to do it.”
Morse moved his family to Pearsall in 1997, six years after he became a game warden. A career in law enforcement had not begun for Morse until he was in his 30s.
By 2020, he was a retired game warden captain of the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife. He prevailed over incumbent Sheriff Albert DeLeon in the Democratic Party primary elections and defeated a Republican contender in the November general election.
Prior to enrollment in the South Texas College law enforcement program, Morse spent his days as a bricklayer. He says he was tenacious in his quest to serve the public; he attended school during the day and worked a permanent graveyard shift at the city of Lampasas Police Department in Central Texas.
“On my third try, I finally got in with the state as a game warden,” the sheriff says. “That was in ninety-one.”
Morse moved his family to Starr County and began a 29-year law enforcement career with Texas Parks & Wildlife as a game warden. In 2010, he was promoted captain, a position he held for nine years before his retirement in 2019.
Now as sheriff of Frio County, Morse has begun the task of shaping the department to his vision of a successful law enforcement agency. A believer in efficient command structure, he has assembled a command team of officers experienced in different fields. Morse says without his chief deputy, jail administrator and patrol lieutenant, the department would not thrive.
“I think the world of those guys [Chief Deputy Peter Salinas, Jail Administrator John Meyer and Patrol Lieutenant Josh Longoria],” the sheriff says. “They are the guys doing the work; I just cannot say enough about them. They know when to have compassion and when to be stern.”
Morse acknowledges that his entire staff is on a tough road to establishing a foundation that will restore public trust. The sheriff urges his deputies to shake the hands of citizens, meet the landowners across the county and to treat all they come across with respect.
“I am not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Morse says. “I want to go back to basic law enforcement and that is what we are going to do if we want to be successful.”
Morse describes himself as a straight shooter, which he knows some people see as a cynical attitude, but he believes in using that directness to get things done. When he took office in January, Morse lost seven employees from the department. Some of them were let go; some chose to leave.
“I am not a polished person, but I am honest and believe in integrity,” the sheriff says. “I had two department meetings and I laid out my expectations. Some people did not like that, so they left. I also restructured because we were too top heavy.”
The sheriff’s office currently has three deputy and three jailer positions to fill.
The Frio County Jail has been alternately closed and reopened over the past several years, most recently as a 72-hour holding facility. The county government is keen to see the facility operating at the capacity for which it was designed. Morse agrees that much needs to be done if the jail is to open as a full-time detention facility.
“It is the number priority but I do not have a time frame for when it will reopen,” the sheriff says. “People are just going to have to take my word.”
Over the past four years, the county commissioners’ court has filtered nearly two million dollars into improvements to the antiquated infrastructure of the facility.
“The infrastructure is shot,” Morse says. “The plumbing, electrical, door mechanisms… the whole thing is shot.”
The sheriff attributes many of the facility’s problems to private companies that have rented the jail and performed minimal maintenance while they occupied it.
Morse wants to change the jail’s current status as a holding facility and believes he can. He believes the jail not serving as a full-time facility hinders prosecution and arrests.
The newly elected sheriff does foresee implementing programs in the future to encourage community involvement. However, his first order of business was to change policies about social media and accountability across his department.
“I am very proud of my people, especially my command staff,” Morse says. “These guys have worked and worked to make things go. I attribute what little success we have had thus far to them. I am not an ‘all-about-me’ sheriff. It is about my personnel.
“It is simple; our motto is ‘service with respect’ and by doing this we will create a rapport with the community and win their trust back,” Morse says. “I want the people’s method of thinking to be that if they call the sheriff’s office, someone is going to go out there and help fix the problem.”