Denton County commissioners this week gave their sheriff more to work with when it comes to handling sensitive crimes against children.
Sheriff Tracy Murphree appeared in commissioners court Tuesday to ask commissioners to fund two special investigator positions that will specifically handle child abuse cases. The commissioners unanimously agreed during a 2020 budget hearing to give Murphree the two slots, a move the sheriff says will help his office investigate the rising number of child abuse reports.
“If we can’t protect our kids, what good are we?” Murphree said Wednesday.
The Denton County Sheriff’s Office won’t be able to hire the new investigators until after the 2020 budget is finalized by commissioners in September.
Murphree said the two investigators won’t do much else other than focus on cases involving children, such as sexual abuse, neglect or the online solicitation stings Murphee’s office has made headlines for in the past year.
The sheriff says child abuse reports are going up. He said that doesn’t necessarily mean more abuse is happening. Murphree said it’s just that people are more aware of the signs that a child is being harmed by an adult these days and file reports with police quicker than they used to.
More reports mean more work for investigators. Having two people on child cases, Murphee said, will take the workload off other investigators and help the sheriff’s office better assist smaller agencies across Denton County handle child cases in their jurisdictions.
“I want to make sure these cases are worked to their fullest extent,” Murphree said.
The new investigators will team up with the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County and the Denton County District Attorney’s Office as part of a multidisciplinary unit focused on prosecuting crimes against children and helping the victims heal.
The investigators will do their job as normal — interview suspects, get search warrants, make arrests — but do it cohesively with the advocacy center and the district attorney’s office.
Done this way, Murphree said, each of the three agencies will be on the same page about each case they’re working.
An investigator working a case will be able to more easily have an advocacy center caseworker interview the child victim.
“They’re able to get a lot more out of these kids than a police officer could,” Murphree said.
Prosecutors will work more closely with investigators, letting the sheriff’s office know what they need in order to move a case before a grand jury. Caseworkers will point victims and families toward resources for further treatment or counseling.
“It’s just not enough for police to go out and arrest these bad guys,” Murphree said.
One of Murphree’s deputies was arrested in Tarrant County in 2018 and charged with online solicitation of a minor. Since then, Murphree said earlier this year, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office joined a task force of other police agencies that goes after alleged online child predators.
Murphree said the two new investigators will also be involved in that task force. The sheriff says he hopes to conduct at least two solicitation stings each year.
“When they’re contacting a kid in Denton County,” Murphree said of potential online predators, “it could very well be a police officer.”