Service needs increase while budgets decrease
As the population in Tomball and Magnolia continues to grow, law enforcement agencies are being thrust into a challenging situation. For the 2011-12 fiscal year, the budget for the Magnolia Police Department was cut by $23,000 after being cut by $156,000 the year before. The budget was raised for the Tomball Police Department this year, but is still lower than it was in the 2008-09 fiscal year, before a $726,000 cut.
However, both departments' arrests have increased over the three-year period, which they attribute largely to collaborating with local and county agencies, as well as citizen volunteers.
"Having to do more with less is not unique to the Texas area," said Rob Hauck, Tomball's police chief. "In fact, Tomball is in decent shape compared to many other places, but that doesn't mean we haven't kept our eye on the ball just the same."
Hauck said the Tomball Citizens Police Academy, which begins its 10th year Sept. 4, plays a major role in helping the department operate amidst cuts.
"Those folks are invaluable to us in day-to-day activities around the station that would otherwise take the time of our full-time employees," he said.
The Magnolia Citizens Police Academy just graduated its first class of 16 students, according to Magnolia Police Chief Domingo Ibarra. The department plans to bring the academy back next year, and graduates are already getting involved through volunteer police programs.
"They're going to sort of be like the bridge between what we need and the resources that are out there," he said.
Interested residents in either city can contact their departments for applications to sign up.
Annual report statistics
The annual report in Tomball, which will be released later this summer, shows crime rates have remained fairly consistent despite population growth.
Overall crime fell 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, but increased 8.6 percent in 2011.
In Magnolia, overall crime has increased steadily with population growth. Felony arrests are up 22 percent from 2010 and misdemeanors are up around 32 percent, according to the annual police report.
In 2011, the MPD reached an all-time high for arrests, and an all-time low for motor vehicle accidents.
The bulk of the MPD annual budget goes to personnel, so cuts over the last few years led to the release of three officers. The department—which has nine officers and six reserves—is often put in the situation of having only one officer on patrol duty.
MPD's collaboration with local and county law enforcement agencies has become essential in stopping crime and providing backup, according to Ibarra.
Between constables, police and the sheriff's office, there are six agencies covering the Tomball and Magnolia areas. Although their jurisdictions overlap, they specialize in different tasks.
"There is no police agency in this country that will ever catch up on the manpower and resources that it needs to do the job most efficiently," Montgomery County Sheriff Lt. Dan Norris said. "The cooperation between agencies is imperative to provide the best possible police service."
The police department covers law enforcement within city limits. The Montgomery County constables are primarily responsible for civil court services—issuing subpoenas to witnesses and executing court judgments—but also assist in law enforcement. The sheriff offices cover law enforcement throughout the county and work closely with local police officers.
"It's a mutual relationship," said Captain Glenn Arnold, who works in Montgomery County Precinct 5 constable's office. "Our departments have different responsibilities, but our overall goals are similar."
In addition to county and statewide agencies, the TPD partners with Northwest Emergency Medical Services and Tomball Fire Department.
As of 2010, the Tomball Police and Fire departments, EMS and the public works department operate on the same radio network and dispatch center. Previously, all 911 calls went to the Police Department, which would either respond to the call or connect the caller to fire or EMS, depending on what the problem was. Now, all departments see the call as it comes in.
"Not only is it saving us money, but we can communicate more effectively," Hauck said.
Alternate funding sources
Both Tomball and Magnolia departments have developed programs designed to improve law enforcement without drastically increasing expenditures.
In 2008, Tomball installed two red light cameras, which have made the area safer and played a significant role in bringing revenue into the city, according to Hauck. The cameras, located at the four corners intersection of FM 2920 and Hwy. 249 and the intersection of Hwy. 249 and Zion Road, have led to a 30 percent decrease in traffic collisions and bring in around $300,000-$400,000 each year.
The money partly funds the aviation unit, which TPD introduced in 2011. The gyroplane, which has been used for finding missing people, patrol and identifying aggressive drivers, would not be possible without the red light funds, Hauck said.
The MPD operates its own photo red light system, which it used to issue 8,267 citations last year. Half of the money brought in goes to the State Comptroller's Regional Trauma Center, while the other half—roughly $188,000—goes to support MPD's traffic safety programs.
Magnolia also launched a K-9 unit in 2010 after a resident donated a German Shepherd to the force valued at $1,000. The unit has been successful in tracking down narcotics, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, Ibarra said.
"At the end of that day, it's about relationships," Hauck said. "Whether it's a relationship with your employees, elected officials, citizens or public safety partners, it's those relationships that instill trust, foster strategic planning and save money while doing it."