The Robstown Police Department has come a long way in the past couple of years.

Under the leadership of Chief Johnny Brown, the department has seen numerous technology and infrastructure upgrades that are designed to make keeping the citizens of Robstown safer, while also ensuring officers have the necessary tools to do their jobs.

Since taking over in September 2007, Brown has made it a priority to bring the department into the 21st Century. With the cooperation of the Robstown City Council, he has pushed for the purchase of new vehicles, equipment and technology at the department.

In just the past year alone, the RPD has received $1.2 million in grant funds, most of which do not require any additional money from the city, to pay for those improvements.

Interior and exterior renovations, totaling more than $50,000, were also conducted in 2008 at the department, soon after Brown took office. Paid for by the city, that work included the construction of new office spaces and the repainting of the logo and wall surface at the front of the police department.

"The building was in terrible condition," Brown says. "When you come to work, it makes a big difference because of the atmosphere you are working in."

"Any time you have the cooperation of the mayor and council, you're going to have the ability to move forward and to get things done," he adds. "Without them, nothing gets done."

Another result of that influx of grant money was the addition of nine new Chevrolet Tahoes to the department's 22-vehicle fleet, which includes one for the department's relatively new K-9 unit.

Brown says the new vehicles allow officers more space to better store their equipment. The goal is to eventually replace most of the fleet with the larger Tahoes, Brown says, but some of the older vehicles will likely remain as replacements or spares.

The grants have also paid for new equipment for officers, including new weapons and bulletproof vests. Prior to the last two years, officers were forced to purchase their own equipment and weapons, Brown says.

Officers now have computers in each of their vehicles, as well. Brown says it allows officers the opportunity to acquire information on the spot, rather than relying on dispatch to gather it for them.

The computers are also linked to the Robstown Municipal Court, so if an individual has outstanding warrants in the court, they will be flagged for law enforcement to pick up when an officer checks them in the system.

In addition, community outreach has become a big part of Brown's strategy to let the citizens become more involved in addressing crime in the area.

"Community outreach is a must - this has to be a community effort," he says.

It was that desire to reach out to the people of Robstown that led Brown to start up an anonymous hotline, (361) 387-TIPS. Residents calling that number are allowed to anonymously provide information on any suspected criminal activity, from vandalism and drug dealing to the possible locations of suspects wanted for more violent crimes.

Since its launch two years ago, the number has been one of the main sources for the department in catching criminals or beginning investigations, and has resulted in the arrests of a number of drug dealers.

But for the residents, Brown says it is a tool that allows them to strike back at the criminals who give the proud people of Robstown a bad name.

"We're not alone in fighting this battle. As long as the community's involved, that's a win-win," he says. "There's more of a trust now that we lacked before."

Melody Garver, who has owned and operated MG's Pizza in Robstown for more than 20 years, says she is aware of the reputation the city has among residents in the surrounding areas. But she feels it is undeserved and praised the police department for the work it has done to improve how it serves the community.

"There are good people here," she says. "From a personal point of view, I can see that the officers seem a little more motivated. If they've got some better equipment to protect themselves and us, then I'm all for it."

Garver says the growing involvement of the community shows that residents are tired of letting the smaller criminal element overshadow the good majority of Robstown.

"People are tired of the same old (stuff)," she says. "We're ready for a change. We need to clean up Robstown because we want more businesses to come in here."

The department has taken a tougher stance in the fight against drugs in Robstown, going after all dealers who are selling small or large amounts of illegal narcotics. One case resulted in a dialysis patient being arrested for selling cocaine out of her home. Some elderly residents have also been caught dealing drugs.

"If they're dealing drugs in Robstown, we're going after them. I don't care who it is," Brown says.

The department participates in interlocal drug cases, as well, partnering with police departments in Alice and Kingsville. They also have been conducting more highway interdictions to combat drug activity, which led to the seizure of 1,906 pounds of marijuana in 2010 alone.

In addition, the department seized 10 vehicles, a boat, more than $90,000 in currency and an estimated $50,000 worth of jewelry. Those figures are also for 2010.

Brown says the department will continue to increase the number of community gatherings it holds annually, and has recently applied for a grant that will allow for the purchase of new equipment to make the community meetings more informative.

The ultimate goal is to give the people of Robstown a renewed sense of trust in their local law enforcement officers, while also showing them that the department is heavily reliant on their input and cooperation to curb crime.

"When I became chief, I invested in a nice home here (in town)," Brown says. "I have no plans on ever leaving Robstown and I'm going to serve the people of Robstown the best that I can."

"As long as things keep rolling the way they're going, I see good things for the future of Robstown," he adds.