Harris County considering $14.8M in new public safety initiatives

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
Harris County Commissioners Court on June 29 will consider $14.8 million worth of initiatives to combat the Houston area’s ongoing rise in violent crime. (Courtesy Harris County Precinct 2)

Harris County Commissioners Court on June 29 will consider $14.8 million worth of initiatives to combat the Houston area’s ongoing rise in violent crime. (Courtesy Harris County Precinct 2)

Harris County Commissioners Court on June 29 will consider $14.8 million worth of initiatives to combat the Houston area’s ongoing rise in violent crime.

“We are actively working together. In the past, there may have been a sense of rivalry between the sheriff's office and the Houston Police Department. Not anymore,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who previously served as Harris County sheriff.

Garcia was joined by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez; County Judge Lina Hidalgo; and Matt Slinkard, Houston Police Department executive assistant chief, to promote the proposals at a press conference June 28.

Four proposals before the commissioners will include:

  • Six new associate judges to assist in 22 criminal district courts;

  • Funding for visiting judges to assist the proposed six new associate judges;

  • An expansion of jury service at NRG Stadium; and

  • Funding within the sheriff's office for overtime, new body cameras to speed up evidence retrieval and expansion of pilot neighborhoods for the Shot Spotter program, which geolocates gunfire in real time.

The cost of the proposals will be covered by unallocated funds across all Harris County department budgets, Hidalgo said. Before Hidalgo took office in 2019, county departments had a practice of rolling over unused funds from year to year. The $14.8 million worth of proposals comes from surpluses that were returned to the General Fund, she said.

“We are using funding that has just been sitting there in a really antiquated system that you really do not see in other governments,” Hidalgo said.

The proposals, led by Garcia, take aim at resolving the backlog of cases in Harris County, which has grown by 40% since Hurricane Harvey disrupted criminal justice facilities and proceedings in 2017. The issue was also exacerbated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hidalgo said. The increased funding for assistant judges and visiting judges would cost about $2.5 million over the next year, according to Hidalgo.

The backlog is now over 100,000 pending cases, which is 40,000 cases above national standards. There are about 20,000 cases that have been backlogged for over a year, Hidalgo said.

“We will start with most violent cases that have been in the backlog. ... It's a manpower issue,” she said. “We are disposing of fewer cases than we’re bringing in per day.”

Precinct 4 Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, however, proposed an item on the June 29 agenda to preserve the rollover funds because they "encourage fiscal responsibility," he wrote in a Facebook post.

Editor's note: this post was updated to reflect the source of funding for the proposals.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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