August 2, 2008

Border sheriffs suggest El Paso man to head Texas DPS

By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
Article Launched: 08/02/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

AUSTIN -- Some Texas border sheriffs said Friday that they've already made their pick for the next leader of the state's top law enforcement agency: El Pasoan Steve McCraw, Texas Homeland Security director.

"He's a good man," Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West said. "He'll do the righteous thing and put DPS back to the basics, where it needs to be."

The Texas Public Safety Commission is set to start the process of choosing a director of the Texas Department of Public Safety to replace Col. Thomas Davis, who will retire Aug. 31. His retirement comes as the department faces a storm of criticism and calls for modernization in the wake of security gaps that allowed an arsonist to set the governor's mansion ablaze in June.

"It's time for renewal and for bettering our systems and equipment to meet modern-day law enforcement challenges," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Though candidates have not been chosen, Carona said, McCraw's name has been among those mentioned to take the helm of the 8,000-employee department.

"He is eminently qualified," Carona said.

McCraw, who graduated from Burges High School, was a DPS trooper and investigator for more than six years before he joined the FBI in 1983. He was appointed to lead the FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force in 2001.

Three years later, he retired from the FBI, and Gov. Rick Perry hired him to direct homeland security operations in Texas.

"Steve McCraw is a trusted adviser of the governor and a well-qualified candidate for a number of positions," Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

McCraw has been instrumental in implementing Perry's state-led border security efforts, and helping secure state and federal money for local law enforcement to increase patrols in high-crime areas.

El Paso County Sheriff Jimmy Apodaca said McCraw would enhance his department's already cooperative relationship with the DPS.

Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's coalition, called McCraw a law-enforcement visionary with impeccable integrity and valuable experience.

"Texas would be very lucky to have a guy like him," Reay said.

The Public Safety Commission will first choose an interim director and then will embark on a national search for a permanent DPS leader, Chairman Allan Polunsky said. He added that the commission has no time table for making its choice.

He declined to comment on McCraw, but said the commission would seek someone who "can bring the department squarely into the 21st century."

McCraw has been at the center of some controversy with lawmakers in the past. He faced tough questioning during the 2007 legislative session about whether border security grant dollars were used appropriately, and about how the governor's office used an extensive database containing personal information about Texans.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, was among those who grilled McCraw about how border security money was used to enforce immigration law.

McCraw, Shapleigh said, has the experience and law-enforcement background.

He declined to discuss specific concerns he might have about McCraw as a potential DPS leader.

McCraw said he couldn't comment on whether he'd like the job.

"I'm confident the Public Safety Commission in the end will select a highly qualified and capable person," he said. "We'll see how it works out."

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

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