Billy Surface

Personalities

A Q&A With Dallas County’s Top Cop

Marian Brown is our first black sheriff ever. And she knows where her service weapon is.

You were just elected as the first black sheriff in the history of Dallas County, after serving on an interim term. When Commissioner John Wiley Price swore you in, he said, “I don’t know that I’ve had a greater pleasure than in this historical moment.” What was it like to hear those words? Well, I was honored by it. But before I was first appointed, I hadn’t given it much thought. It took me hearing it several times before the significance really occurred to me. By the time I was elected, I guess it kind of sank in and I realized that it was a tremendous honor, but also a tremendous load to carry. You know, to whom much is given, much is required. It’s great to be the first, but you want to make sure you are making it easier for somebody else coming behind you, not more difficult.

As sheriff, one of your largest jobs is operating Lew Sterrett. What does the public not understand about running a jail? There is this notion that people come in and they go into a dungeon somewhere, that there are people clanging on bars for food and water. We operate like a machine. Everything is done at the time it’s supposed to be. It’s done in a certain way. It’s done that way day after day after day. We have custody of almost 5,000 people, and we have to care for them. They’re not just in our custody. We have a registered dietitian. If you have people who have special needs, we have to meet those needs as well.

The jail is the county’s largest provider of mental health services, right? That’s an unfortunate truth. We provide competency hearings to determine whether you are believed to be competent enough to be held liable for whatever it is you’re here for. About a third of the people in our custody are in need of assistance in the area of mental illness. Parkland provides all of our medical and psychological care; we actually have a 300-bed hospital.

But that’s not all you do. We have the responsibility for 14 unincorporated areas. We provide police services, and that’s the total package—answering calls, addressing the issues people are calling about. We also execute warrants.

The new district attorney, John Creuzot, has said he wants to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses and institute policies that will likely decrease the jail population. What do you think about that? It may help us in terms of immediate releases, especially if there’s an increase in PR [personal recognizance] bonds. But we have to keep in mind that as we allow people to come in and quickly get out on a PR bond, that they are expected to return. At some point, they have to come back to court. The challenge is, will those people come back? And if they don’t, we may wind up with more warrants to go out and find the people. It may affect us on the back end.

During your time as interim sheriff, there was a controversy because the department couldn’t locate former Sheriff Lupe Valdez’s service weapon. Sheriff Brown, can you tell me where your service weapon currently is? [laughs] I think you already know the answer to that.

Shaun Rabb, the Fox 4 journalist, is your husband. How hard is it for you two to not talk about work? We have a rule, that he does his job and I do mine. He’s good at what he does, so sometimes he has information that I don’t have about the place where I work. That’s a respect that we have for one another and for the work that we do. It’s just a beautiful relationship.

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