Area police chasing population growth

Updated April 30 to include information about Harris County Pct. 5 Constable patrols.



Law enforcement agencies are trying to keep pace with more traffic and increased policing demands as the Katy area's population continues to grow and the area attracts more commercial development, such as Costco and a proposed Walmart Supercenter.



"There is a potential increase in traffic violations as well as crashes just because of the number of people who've moved to the area," Texas Department of Public Safety Area Sergeant John Sampa said.



Part of the challenge of policing the area is its patchwork of counties, cities and unincorporated communities. Police protection is undertaken by law enforcement agencies at the city, county, state and even school district level. Such a variety of agencies can leave residents uncertain about who exactly may respond to their 911 call, who will be arriving at the scene of an accident or whose flashing lights are in their rearview mirror. However, with multiple agencies active in the area, there are more officers present to respond to crime, emergencies and enforce laws, said Major Chad Norvell of the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office.



"It's beneficial to residents [that] there's more patrol cars moving around," Norvell said.



Agencies and jurisdictions



The Katy Police Department patrols and responds to calls only within the city limits, said Tim Tyler, Katy's assistant chief of police.



The sheriff's offices of Harris, Fort Bend and Waller counties provide police coverage in unincorporated areas within their respective counties. Though they can patrol and be called to assist at the scene of an accident or crime within city limits, sheriffs generally focus more on areas outside of city limits, which are not served by a municipal police force, Norvell said.



Fort Bend County Precinct 3 constables regularly patrol certain communities in the county, including parts of Cinco Ranch and Seven Meadows, through contracts with home owners' associations. These patrols are intended to deter criminal activity and provide residents with a sense of security.



Harris County Precinct 5 Constables also patrol subdivisions in their territory under contracts with home owners associations. Area neighborhoods that have entered into patrol contracts with Harris County constables include Green Trails, Kelliwood and Cinco Ranch.





Generally, there is one constable patrol unit for every 600 homes in a neighborhood, though a subdivision can request fewer or more patrol units, said Captain R. Chapa of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's office.





Constable patrols, in addition to providing neighborhood residents with peace of mind, can result in faster response times when an issue arises, as the constable is familiar with navigating the subdivision.





"The officer gets to be familiar with the neighborhood, so that greatly increases response time," Chapa said.



Though the DPS Highway Patrol is primarily active on major highways and thoroughfares, they can issue citations, make arrests or assist at the scene of an accident anywhere in the state.



"We can handle anything at any given point in time on any given roadway," Sampa said.



Katy ISD's police force also has authority in the entire 181-square mile school district. Created to address school safety and focus on the schools and school zones, it can ticket drivers and make arrests anywhere in the district.



"A lot of people don't realize that the Katy ISD officers driving around near their schools have full authority to write tickets and make arrests as needed," Norvell said.



With numerous law enforcement agencies patrolling the Katy area, residents may not always know who is responsible for responding in an emergency.



"If they're unsure, always just dial 911," Norvell said.



Keeping up with growth



When the Cane Island master- planned community is complete in 2015, the population the Katy Police Department is responsible for protecting will rise dramatically. Katy police have already begun exploring ways to manage the increased population and traffic it will bring, Tyler said.



"We're going to try and increase the size of our patrol division, and with that we can have more traffic units," Tyler said.



There are 18 marked patrol units in Katy's fleet. Tyler estimates that at least another six to nine officers would be needed to patrol Cane Island. This represents a 30 to 50 percent increase, though that number could rise.



The Katy Police Department is already busy, Tyler said. During the past three years, the number of traffic citations issued has risen by more than 10,000. In 2011, Katy police issued 18,786 citations; in 2013, they issued 29,058.



Like the Katy Police, county sheriffs are also mulling how to best address a growing population and the traffic and crime that can bring.



"Katy is a fast-growing area," said Major Steve Marino of the Harris County Sheriff's Office. "The west part of the county is one of the fastest-growing areas in the county and, in fact, the country."



Waller County has two deputies who patrol the south end of the county, including Katy. The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office employs 40 deputies at its Katy annex at Grand Parkway and Westpark Tollway.



County patrols and officer deployments are based primarily on calls for service, rather than on population alone. Sheriffs do not automatically hire and send more deputies to an area because it experiences growth, Norvell said.



"While there may be rapid growth in a given year, we redeploy based on needs or calls for service," Norvell said.



However, Harris County has been hiring deputies that could cover the Katy area following a hiring freeze, Marino said.



Waller County Chief Deputy Craig Davis said his office requests more officers every year and will do so again this year.



"We are well aware that this county is growing by leaps and bounds and will no doubt require more patrol staff, investigators, jail staff, etc. In the end of course, it is the Commissioners Court that approves request by the Sheriff for additional staff to effectively deal with the growth," Davis said.



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