Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia is asking the county to consider a study of a longstanding program allowing neighborhoods to pay for additional law enforcement coverage by contracting with the county constables. The commissioner also rebuffed concerns from residents on Twitter that the study was a ploy to cancel the program.
“Counties are under a tax revenue cap imposed by the legislature. We need to better understand how resources are being allocated. We need to ensure our law enforcement resources are deployed in a manner that provides reliable and equitable public safety,” said Garcia, a former Harris County sheriff, in a written statement.
With a constable or sheriff's deputy contract, a neighborhood HOA or municipal utility district agrees to fund part or all of a deputy's salary in order to secure a dedicated officer for their area.
The commissioners will consider the item on March 10, and if the study is approved, a report would be turned around in May, according a letter outlining Garcia's proposal to his fellow commissioners.
“We want to evaluate how the program operates in each Constable precinct, the efficacy of the program, its full impact on the County budget, its impact on operations of County departments and inequities that may be caused by the program," Garcia said. "As a career law enforcement officer, I know public safety is our top priority and this study will help us make informed decisions on how to best provide it.”
A 2018 study from the Kinder Institute of Urban Research looked at the constable program along with other law enforcement entities across the county, including the Houston Police Department, small city police departments, school districts and other entities. As of 2018, the county had 189 constable contracts and 109 sheriff's deputy contracts, according to the study. Among its recommendations for cost savings were combining the constable and sheriff's deputy programs and requiring neighborhoods to pay the full salary of their contracted deputy.
To effectively deploy these resources however, Garcia is asking commissioners to vote on both a study of the contract system and a study of the implementation of a combined dispatching system with Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Harris County Constable’s Office.
“As far as I’m concerned if a community is contracting with one of our constables, I support that," Garcia said. "This is not to take away that ability from the neighborhoods but by the same token, we need to make sure that crime information and intelligence does not remain siloed.”
Editor's note: this post has been updated for clarity.