From buying him jail time, to buying him dinner: Waco police celebrate success story of reformed criminal

Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 3:28 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The Waco Police Department is celebrating a success story that’s come out of one of its newest programs called the Career Criminal Apprehension Supervision Team (CCAST).

Since early 2020, the specialized officers in the program have been working with local mental health professionals at MHMR, homeless organizations like Mission Waco, and addictions programs like Cenikor, to get help to repeat criminals who they see too often.

“(It’s a) more contemporary, or new style of policing, in looking for ways to help that person socially, whatever social aspects they have, whether it’s drugs and alcohol, whether it’s homelessness and mental health, and trying to direct that person to resources rather than just doing the traditional thing when they commit a small crime where we put handcuffs on them and take them to jail and they’re back out doing the same thing the next day because they’re never really getting the resource that they need,” said Sgt. Chet Long, the CCAST Unit Supervisor.

At the time of the program’s origin, the top offender on the list was LaRon Hicks who was arrested more than 30 times in one year.

“He had the most arrests in the city over the course of the year,” said Long.

Long says everyone in the department knew ‘LaRon’...but for the wrong reasons.

“About every two-and-a-half days he would come in contact with an officer,” said Long.

Hicks, 46, grew up in McGregor; he says it was a small town with not a lot to do, so from a young age, he and his friends would drive around the back roads and drink.

“It became a habit, it became what I felt like I needed to feel good,” said Hicks.

Alcohol also almost became his downfall.

He says he had his first drink at eleven or twelve, and everyone around him indulged in substance abuse.

“It was the norm,” he said. “I always thought I could get a hold of it and drink like normal people, it took me 30-something years and a lot of trouble, a few trips to prison, to realize that I wasn’t one of the ones that could handle it.”

It was in response to people like Hicks, who repeatedly commit lower-level crimes and bounce through the justice system over-and-over, that Waco PD created CCAST, which, Long says, was the brain-child of former Chief Ryan Holt.

Long says, at the program’s origin, he was given a metric to work off of.

“The top people on that metric were not the burglars and the shooters and the thieves as much as it was there were certain ones that were doing criminal trespassing, public intoxication, things like that,” said Long. “So what I realized quickly was the people we were dealing with most frequently were nuisance-style crimes, which we were never fully addressing it, we were putting Band-Aids on it by making arrests.”

“But it’s not a ‘Band-Aid’ fix, we’re looking for long-term solutions to common problems police deal with,” he said.

They want to find a better way, he said, with with a longer impact, so each of the four officers under him only has between 5-7 cases in order to better serve the individuals.

“Some have homeless outreach teams or mental health teams within departments, but I haven’t seen our direct model before,” said Long.

As far as budget, Long says he believes there’s a cost-savings in the long run as officers will be spending less time on calls involving specific individuals, but it’s hard to track, he says.

Long says their model is unique, and different than their past work with MHMR in Waco, because now they’re staffing cases with MHMR and using a more “holistic approach” to deal with ‘frequent flyers’ Hicks...who they gave an ultimatum.

“We basically gave him two options: ‘we’re going to look for ways to keep you in jail, or we’re going to look for ways to help you,’” said Long.

Hicks took the help.

However, he was weary because past offers of help and attempts at rehab hadn’t panned out.

This time, he says, he felt the opportunity was sincere.

“I can see that the whole CCAST team, that they really wanted to help me,” said Hicks. “I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to accomplish it, but I made it with the help of CCAST, MHMR, my work...I had a lot of people in my corner, my family definitely.”

In an amazing transformation, last week Hicks celebrated one year of sobriety--and one year without arrests--by having the CCAST team take him out to dinner with his family.

“People like LaRon have a story, and that story is so powerful for people who are stuck in addiction.”

Long says they’re extremely proud of Hicks, and of the success of others in the program.

”I want to see the snowball effect of this,” said Long. “I want to see people like him (Hicks) go back out into their communities and identify these people and show them the path that they were on.”

Eventually, Long says, they want to expand the program to reach the ‘boots on the ground’, so patrol officers know what resources are available to give people a path, rather than jail time.

“I’d like it to trickle down to the basic officer at some point,” said Long.

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