On Sept. 14, a 96-page critique penned by two retired Houston police officials was released by The Howard Hughes Corp., which commissioned the study.
The Woodlands Incorporation study report released in May 2020 by The Novak Consulting Group includes about 100 pages devoted to the topic of law enforcement in a future city if voters in The Woodlands choose to incorporate in the Nov. 2 election.
The financial model used by the township to develop its maximum initial tax rate and other financial information in the potential city includes assumptions for a hybrid model of law enforcement that would continue contracts with Montgomery and Harris counties over a four-year period while it establishes its own force. The maximum initial tax rate that will be on the ballot Nov. 2 is $0.2231 per $100 assessment, the same as the township's current tax rate.
The incorporation study report has been available to the public for more than a year on The Woodlands incorporation study website.
Jim Carman, president of the Houston region of The Howard Hughes Corp., said the company commissioned the consultants out of interest in public safety in the community, for which it is the developer. The company is the largest taxpayer in the community.
“We believe that the foundation of the [Novak report] are fundamentally flawed,” Carman said. “The directions they were given were inadequate, and they came forth with an inadequate report.”
The two officials, Timothy Oettmeier, retired executive assistant chief for HPD, and Joseph Fenninger, retired deputy director and chief financial officer for HPD, said they reviewed the law enforcement portion of the incorporation study and hours of video from the past several years on The Woodlands Township website as well as independent fact-checking and requesting information to evaluate the projections.
Their report focused on several main elements, namely the ongoing operating costs and vehicle costs portions of the study.
“The Novak report is being referenced as the definitive law enforcement plan for The Woodlands capable of providing those assurances,” Oettmeier said. “We respectfully disagree with that premise and strongly suggest there are a myriad of problems that should give residents of The Woodlands pause for serious concerns.”
Some of the areas the critique addresses include operating costs; vehicle costs; and the lack of mention in the report of costs associated with liability, digital evidence handling and other aspects of police work. It also states they failed to find information in the report regarding investigative services for financial crimes, special victims, computer crimes, juvenile crimes and gang activity.
“The method used to justify the conclusion of how many officers are needed to serve the neighborhoods ... is both insufficient and unreliable,” Oettmeier said.
He said the analysis of call data did not distinguish calls from citizens from other activities performed by officers, for example. Oettmeier also called the assertion in the study of how officers should be spending their time unrealistic.
Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson said he believes the new study better explains the cost of running a police department.
"Leaders in law enforcement had some concerns about the validity of those numbers (from the Novak study), so whenever I saw the study from Chief Oettmeier, who I have a lot of respect for, these were much more valid numbers and really spoke to what it takes to run a police department," Henderson said.
Costs of services
The consultants referred to the law enforcement study submitted by Novak to the township in January 2020 in their critique. Since then, contracts have been renegotiated between Montgomery County and The Woodlands, but as of the date of the final draft of the critique, the consultants said they had not seen a revised study posted online. Their analysis projected the Novak report was $12.1 million to $14.5 million understated in ongoing operating costs over four years and $6.1 million in vehicle costs based on the original 2020 report.
In the Aug. 13 township presentation that included the adoption of the maximum initial tax rate, a slide describing the revised financial model included about $14 million in the base budget for law enforcement services in the fourth year after incorporation as well as an additional approximately $9.5 million for the final year of phasing in the hybrid model—the same amount listed as the "subtotal net new operating costs" in the Novak study for the fourth year of the hybrid model. The original report issued in early 2020 had listed about $11 million per year in ongoing operating costs as well as net new operating costs in several categories.
Aside from the cost analysis, the critique also cites the consultants’ remarks on needs they believed should be outlined, such as technological infrastructure. For example, the Novak study lists $1,200 for the cost of body cameras. Fenninger said there are multiple layers of costs associated with such equipment, which he said should be outlined. With body cameras, downloading and storing the video data securely is complex, he said.
“All that information gets downloaded and tagged, but it takes time,” he said. “Do you want to have this police officer do this at the end of his shift and pay him overtime? There is a cost implication. ... Video is storage intensive.”
Additional concerns with video include using specialists to digitally remove faces of bystanders, he said.
“This gives you a flavor of what is involved in body cam operations,” he said.
Fenninger said the needs of a police department are voluminous and complex.
"These are all nondiscretionary things. ... When you have a police department, you are opening up Pandora's box," he said. "You will have federal and state agencies looking over your shoulder."
The full 96-page critique was posted here.
The original Novak report is available here. New information from the township can be viewed in its Aug. 13 meeting, which can be viewed here. Subsequent township meeting videos and information are also available on the township website. The next township meeting is Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. at 2801 Technology Forest Blvd., The Woodlands.