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"There is no gate, wall or moat around Bacliff or San Leon that is keeping anyone here," the poster continued. "How you choose to live your life is simply that — how you CHOOSE to live it. My job is not to drive around and stop people just to talk to them about making something out of their lives. That was your parents' job, not mine...Trust me, there are days I hate this job. So feel free to express yourselves and blame me, it's your 1st Amendment Right to do so."
Bacliff, which clings to the southern fringes of the 281 area code, is one of the last wild places in Greater Houston, for now.
"You have to intentionally go to either Bacliff or San Leon because you've gotta turn left off the highway," says Miller. "It's kind of a hideout." Miller says that the constables in the town in days gone by were lax in the extreme. "Those old boys said, 'I don't care what you do as long as you don't do it in my town.' And it was a hideout for many years — if you were wanted by the law, if you were on the dodge, if you were runnin' some kind of criminal activity. Back before meth labs became real popular, they had 'em all over Bacliff and San Leon because they operated largely protected under the watchful eye of the local constables. But Matranga got in there and she's a tough motherfucker, and she doesn't let all that happen."
Salty, good-humored Pam Matranga became Precinct 7's Constable in 2004, and Miller thinks things are improving on her watch. "She's a great constable, but she has no paid deputies," he says. "There's not a lot she can do, but she does much more than we've ever seen before out of the constables."
Like a lot of people in Galveston County, Matranga once had a preconceived notion of Bacliff and San Leon, and it wasn't favorable. "Bacliff gets a bad rap," she says. "It's a very, very lovely community. The people here will reach out. There's a benefit almost every weekend for someone that needs help."
"Felon City" is another nickname for Bacliff/San Leon, and to Matranga, it is something of a misnomer. She says that it's not that the natives of the town are bad people — it's the people that come in from the outside. "Well, you know, you can come and rent a house down here for $200 a month," she says. "If I'm just getting out of the pen, that's where I'm gonna live. You can just kinda blend in and mind your own business, and then there's the gangs."
Another aspect of life there that attracts a criminal element is understaffed law enforcement. "Because it's an unincorporated area, it's enforced by the Sheriff's Department," she says. "Do they need more support over here? Yes, they do. Is it out of control? I think I've seen a lot of changes since I've been here in the last four years."
Bacliff has a high number of sex offenders — one per every 225 citizens, as compared to one per 594 in Houston — and Matranga's office tries to keep close tabs on them, as well as making sure that seniors don't fall prey to crime. As for the drugs, there is not a lot her office can do, she says. "We do everything we can. If I don't have the money I need to go into a drug house, then I'll have my guys go over there and sit in front of it and screw up their business. We've run a couple of 'em out that way."
She has a fairly nuanced view of the gangsters in her town. "We're now dealing with gangbangers' children. It's the economics of the area. It runs the whole gamut. It comes from children who perceive that they don't have any family life — they want to fit in, they want to be a part of something, and these gangbanger people embrace that. Sometimes with the way their home life is, that is the only family that they have."
Matranga acknowledges that Bacliff has serious woes. "There's stuff in place, but is there a problem? Yes, we have a drug problem over here, obviously with them coming in on the gangbangers and stuff like that. But it's something that's being addressed, and it's gonna take awhile."
And Bacliff will probably change, from without if not from within. A gated residential compound full of two-story brick houses that wouldn't look out of place in Clear Lake has popped up on Bacliff's south side, and property values along every coastline in Texas have steadily risen for years. Matranga points out that there are 700 new homes going up on Bayshore Drive, Bacliff's most pleasant and wealthy thoroughfare.
As progress inches closer, residents suspect that there will be more pressure on law enforcement to clean up the town. "No 1 gave a shit about Bacliff, except Bacliff, intell they started building houses," opined one spelling-challenged keyboard gangster on the Topix board.
Miller is not so sure that things will ever change in Bacliff without drastic measures — like tearing down huge swaths of it. "Just looking at it from an aerial view, you can see that it's destined to be a ghetto," Miller says. "There's no room there the way the streets are laid out, and the only way to relieve that would be if the county came in and condemned half the streets and let grass grow through."