When a shoplifter steals dandruff shampoo from a local store or a motorist is arrested on multiple felony charges, Lytle Police Chief Richard "Richey" Priest keeps his community informed with wry humor and a folksy, unpretentious demeanor.
For at least 10 years, Priest has issued written weekly reports recapping the crimes, arrests and traffic stops in his small town of 2,900 residents located 25 miles southwest of San Antonio. His bulletins — posted on the Police Department's website, shared on social media and emailed to subscribers — have become known for their comical asides and straightforward common sense.
"A lady filled her bag with at least six bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo," Priest wrote in a recent report. "When confronted by the clerk, she just kept on walking out ... One can only hope that our thief is on a mission to eradicate dandruff in our community."
While relaying the antics of another shoplifter in the same report, Priest noted, "We are sort of a theft tourism destination, though the chamber of commerce doesn't note that on our visitor's guide."
He described the arrest of a woman who was stopped in a stolen car and wanted on a warrant. The woman also was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, had debit or credit cards belonging to others and had a felony amount of drugs, according to Priest.
"She even picked up another felony when she brought drugs into the jail," Priest wrote. "It's like this lady had a 'bucket list' of all the stuff she wanted to get arrested for and decided to get it taken care of in one night."
In October, a caller expressed concern that a local Subway sandwich shop was closed and reported suspicions that the business was being robbed. "Well, it was something more common than a robbery — the dreaded 'workforce shortage,'" Priest wrote. "There are just too many jobs out there and not enough people who want to work."
Priest, 52, is a laid-back sort with an easy conversational manner and an approachable demeanor. Having served as Lytle's police chief for 22 years, he believes in transparency with the public and feels people relate well to humor.
"I grew up in the '70s and '80s watching sitcoms and cop shows. The best I can figure is, it just merged together, and this is what you've got," he said of his humorous weekly reports.
"People will read the reports if they're looking for a little humor, looking to find out what's going on. ... They need something to laugh at. I went to college a semester or two. My wife has a degree, and she'll read my stuff, and she cringes, you know. ... I'm not afraid to make fun of myself."
As Lytle police chief, Priest is charged with protecting a city that spans 4 1/2 square miles in Atascosa, Medina and Bexar counties. It serves as a hub for nine surrounding communities. An average of 55,000 to 57,000 vehicles pass through the city every day.
Priest oversees a police force of nine full-time officers and two reserve officers.
With new single-family homes under construction or in development, Priest expects Lytle's total population could double in the next five years.
As a 1988 graduate of Lytle High School who still resides in the small town, he is accustomed to the close confines and familiarity of that environment.
"I see people at H-E-B that we've arrested all the time," Priest said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people, if you do your job and treat them with respect, they're not looking for trouble. They're like everybody else — they made a mistake.
"Lots of people just want somebody that will listen to them."
Priest isn't content to stay behind a desk in his office. He still responds to some calls for service himself.
"I love it," he said. "I like working a lot on holidays and weekends, actually, because you can get out and you can talk to people, see people. I go to H-E-B and wave at everybody and ask them what's up and catch up on stuff. So I like getting out. I like people. That's why I do this."
One of Priest's greatest skills is communication, Lytle Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said.
"He is a very effective communicator, whether it's through social media or his interpersonal skills, dealing with people, the public," Gonzalez said. "I think that is the greatest strength or asset that he has. It makes a difference in how effective he is as a police chief for our community."
Priest previously owned and operated a restaurant in Lytle known as Mr. Pizza, a business his parents started. He took over the restaurant full time in 1993, then became police chief in 1999.
The restaurant business provided frequent contact with customers, which proved to be good training for a law enforcement career, he said.
"The main thing, coming up in the business, is interacting with people — customer service skills," Priest said. "We're seeing people come in the job market that have never, in my opinion, had to tell someone, 'Oh, I'm sorry, you got pickles on your hamburger — I didn't mean to put that — that was our mistake.' They haven't had to solve those problems. So when they get dealt with more serious problems, they can't solve them.
"I'd grown up in a small-business background, so I was used to dealing with people. By the time I was 8 or 9 years old, I'd mastered keeping the customer happy. ... Most of it's just trying to understand people."
Before pivoting to law enforcement as a full-time career, Priestserved as a reserve officer for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office for a year, the Medina County Sheriff's Office for four and a half years and the Natalia Police Department for six months.
Priest and his wife, Kaycee, have four children ranging from 4 months to 16 years old. The police chief expects he'll continue serving in law enforcement until his youngest child finishes college. Priest said he might even run for public office someday.
"It's been fun," he said, reflecting on his years as police chief. "There has not been one day that I really dread coming to work."
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