Thursday, January 08, 2009

Opportunities arise when tight budgets run up against campaign promises

New Harris County Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia is looking for ways to make good on his promise to boost the number of deputies on patrol while safely running an already understaffed jail during an economic downturn. The Houston Chronicle reports ("Sheriff is facing complex recruiting, staffing issues," Jan. 7) that while "his first priority will be filling about 60 vacant positions in the patrol division," Garcia:
said he would like to move some or all of the 425 deputies assigned to the jail to patrol jobs, but they would have to be replaced by civilian jailers.

The Sheriff's Department historically has struggled to find people willing to take that job, though nearly all of the approximately 630 civilian positions in the jail currently are filled.

Commissioner Steve Radack said the economic slump may help the county lure new recruits without spending more money on salaries or benefits.

"There's some tough times ahead, so let's not just say, 'OK, we're increasing pay here; we're increasing pay there,' " Radack said.


Garcia said he also is evaluating the impact of the department's contract deputy program, which allows civic associations, school districts and municipal utility districts to pay the county to assign deputies to specific areas or neighborhoods.

Supporters of the program say it has helped the sheriff's department put more deputies on the street. But opponents say it allows more well-off neighborhoods to buy deluxe protection.

A Houston Chronicle investigation last summer found contract positions were being filled immediately while dozens of regular patrol jobs sat vacant.

With the economy tanking and the Harris commissioners court dominated by Republicans who backed his predecessor, Sheriff Garcia can't count on new money from the county to fulfill his campaign promises. Instead, he must use existing resources more wisely.

Grits has recently suggested other ways to boost patrol coverage, including allowing deputies to utilize new discretion given them by the 80th Texas Legislature to give citations instead of making an arrest on certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors. That can happen a lot more quickly than Garcia is likely to get new money for more patrols or civilian jailers.

With money tight, for the moment law enforcement needs to focus on stretching existing resources further, if only as an argument against making significant cuts.


Anonymous said...

Or how about if Harris County Judges stopped issuing arrest warrants for technical violation on their probationers?
That would cut the jail population by about 10% and cut the workload for all police officers in Houston by at least 40%.

Anonymous said...

Bursting At The Seams: