Scott Gerdes became West Lake Hills police chief in March. He previously worked for the Dallas Police Department for 26 years in information technology department, auto impound, crime scene unit and training academy roles before retiring as a lieutenant in 2011.
He is married and a father of four grown children.
Gerdes said he is enjoying the Austin culture and the intimate scale of the West Lake Hills Police Department.
Explain your transition from Dallas to Austin.
Coming here was great for me because the city is small enough that I can know all of the officers in a very personal way as opposed to being in a big city where I probably knew 10 percent of the officers. Since I’ve been here we’ve been understaffed. I’ve been happy to see how the officers have really stepped up and volunteered to help. That makes my job easier.
Your predecessor, Cliff Spratlan, was West Lake Hills chief of police for two decades. Has it been hard for you to fill his shoes?
That’s one of the reasons I wanted this job. When you see a department where the chief has been there a long time, that means there’s not a lot of internal strife. Everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘Oh, yeah, I knew Cliff.’ That’s kind of difficult trying to fill his shoes, but I think it’s nice for people to have someone new looking at things a little bit differently. Everybody here—from the citizens to the mayor to City Council—has been very friendly and supportive.
Do you plan to makes some changes?
I think so. I’m trying to temper what I want with the need to take incremental steps. Cops hate change—that’s how we’re wired. But I think they’re beginning to see that I’m trying to make things better for the department. So far we’ve made some changes to some of our policies—we’re trying to get some technological updates [including a computer-aided dispatch system], and I’ve gotten shift differential pay for the officers.
What are your favorite aspects of police work?
We’re in a unique position to really have an impact on a specific person’s life. Maybe we can’t affect the world as a whole, but we have an opportunity on a daily basis to affect an individual or a family. There are people who have things happen that are absolutely devastating, and if we can be supportive, we can make that person’s life better for that day.
What are the more difficult aspects of the job?
There are good officers, and there are bad officers just like in any other profession. And when someone does something that negatively impacts law enforcement as a whole, we all suffer the repercussions of that. And when another officer gets killed it’s difficult to keep your bearings. It’s a hard slap in the face to realize how close that edge is.
What types of crimes have you seen since moving to West Lake Hills?
A lot of it has been financial—credit card abuse, debit card abuse—[and] also some burglaries. I think we can do better about educating people. Coming from where I came from, we locked our doors all the time. A lot of people here don’t think that way, and it’s our job to educate them.
What portion of West Lake Hills police work is traffic control?
If you take writing citations and working crashes, it’s probably 50 or 60 percent. We also do a lot of close patrols—checking on houses for vacationing residents—and answer several dozen calls for service every day, such as 911 calls or someone needing us to check something.
Is it a difficult time to be a police officer?
We talk about it on occasion. I think Westlake is a community that is very supportive of its officers. I think the officers understand that and realize that the only way to have that support is to do the right thing.
Can you explain the purpose of the new dark-colored patrol car?
We call it the ghost car. Part of the reason council decided to add it was because of the Bee Caves Road expansion. We’re probably going to have a lot more cut-through traffic, and they wanted something to give us an advantage. It’s been well-received. Even those who have been ticketed say, “I don’t like the ticket, but I’m glad you’re out here.”