Monday, March 14, 2011

Constable layoffs due to budget cuts not necessarily a bad thing

We've already witnessed Dallas constables laid off in the budget cycle last fall, and Harris County Constables in Precincts 2, 4, and 5 are now laying off officers because of the budget crunch. It occurs to me that as counties begin to cut their criminal justice spending in light of declining tax revenues - given their constitutional obligations and the practical necessity of running local jails - it will probably be constables' offices, particularly those which have assumed day-to-day law enforcement functions, that take the biggest hit in the coming round of county budget cuts this fall.

That doesn't bother me much because, save for their process serving functions, I consider constables an anachronism that in an ideal world would not be a separate office from the Sheriff operated by independent elected officials. Quite frankly, the talent pool of politicians from the law-enforcement world who run for these jobs in most counties isn't deep enough to ensure quality people at the top, and they receive far less media attention or other public scrutiny than the sheriff or municipal police. Moreover, their disciplinary processes, internal affairs, etc., typically aren't very robust and often reek of good ol' boy-ism. Constables don't need traffic divisions or investigative units - that's what the municipal police and Sheriffs are for - and counties would be wise to take the opportunity this year to scale back these agencies to their essential, constitutional functions.

RELATED (3/15): Why Barney Fife kept his bullet in his pocket


Phelps said...

The Constables have been wayward from their mission for a while anyways, at least in Dallas County. They proposed to help revenue by doing a bunch of traffic enforcement. They got a much bigger budget, hired a bunch of deputies, wrote a ton of citations... and revenue went down.

Why? Because all the deputies were out writing tickets that no one was paying because... no one was serving warrants. You know, like the Constables are supposed to do. I still don't believe that each precinct couldn't be served by about six deputies, at least as far as their core purpose goes -- serving warrants and papers.

Anonymous said...

This is a big story in Harris County, waiting for someone to break it. The Constable Mafia has been a massive drain on taxpayers for too long.

Anonymous said...

It's really bad in Harris County. The commissioners have really played the Sheriff's Office and Constables Department against each other for years.

Harris County has eight different constables and the Sheriff's Office. The tax payers of Harris County are paying for nine different dispatchers, building space, command staff (Chiefs, Capt., Lt. & Sgt), and cars for eight different Constables and the Sheriff's Office. Some of the Constables Pct. are completely in the city of Houston.

The Sheriff's Office patrol deputies are running calls alone, and some divisions in the detectives bureau are carrying 40 to 70 open cases.

Anonymous said...

This is all Political Propaganda… The reason the Constables rose to fame is because they worked hard for the citizens in Harris County, gaining their trust and confidence.. Constables are an answer to a second choice for the citizen’s law enforcement needs. Many at the Harris County Sheriff’s Department have laid down over the years, losing their self respect and compromising their work ethics. How can the citizens trust this type of agency. “They have obviously forgot who brung them to dance”!

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Doesn't it just break your pea picikin little heart to see constables who are kind of a draconian leftover anyway, lose their tire little winy mouth position in the world of crybaby agencies whose self importance has swollen to the hieght of the recent Japanese Tsunami. But, I digress. I was once told by a Harris County precinct 4 constable that he worked for the largest police force in the world. I was awe stricken, but he swore it was true that Harris County precinct 4 was in 2008 the largest police department in the world. So my question then was WHY? Please say it aint so Joe.

Anonymous said...

"Political Propaganda"

The only reason for the constables rise to fame in Harris County is because the commissioners didn't like the elected democratic Sheriff (Jack Heard, Johnny Klevenhagen and now Adrian Garcia).

While district Sheriff Deputies are running 15 to 20 in progress 911 calls a shift, the constables are doing vacation checks for the wealthy people in their contracts.

The constables have held many crime scenes outside their contracts until a Sheriff Deputy could respond to the scene.

Dial 911 in unincorporated Harris County and see who responds!

Anonymous said...

Political propaganda? Not likely. The previous posters speak the truth, and their facts, as such, cannot be disputed.
I personally witnessed a visit from a group of Dallas area Constables and their representatives who traveled to Harris County several years ago to study the workings and history of the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office. They were shown the ropes, so to speak. They liked what they saw. A powerful law enforcement fiefdom which had, among other characteristics, no civil service for employees, a highly "flexible" mission with no true accountability, absolute mastery of the media, statistical wizardry, and the blessings of the County Commissioners. Moreover, they were a fundraising machine, both for themselves, and for other offices. As such, they are self-sustaining. Imagine 300+ captive campaign workers who could be fired at whim for not doing your bidding?
The group from Dallas liked what they saw. They left Houston feeling elated, empowered, and determined. They were giddy at the thought of the fiefdoms they would create in Dallas.
The Dallas area may be a work in progress, but the Constables are still intent on imposing the Harris County Constable system in the Dallas area. Dallas area residents need to wake up and remove this cancer before it metathesizes. Get organized, contact your Commissioners and make your positions known. Make sure to involve the media in the fight. Let it be known the you want one, and only one County law enforcement agency in your County.
If you folks fall asleep at the wheel, you will wake up and find that the convoluted, budget-breaking, 9-headed bastard of a bird Harris County law enforcement system has found a new home in Dallas.

A Texas PO said...

I seem to recall a while back there was a proposal to adopt a new state constitution that would have given county control in large urban areas over to the largest city (i.e. Travis County functions turned over to Austin, Harris County to Houston), but the proposal was murdered since County Sheriffs, Commissioners, JPs, and Constables, could potentially have lost their positions. It makes sense to be, especially in those large areas, that the local municipalities take charge of these functions when so many law enforcement jurisdictions overlap. I've lived in places where, even in urban areas, city cops don't patrol the interstate because that is the sole jurisdiction of the highway patrol. I know many Constables and Constable Deputies, but you're right: they should be focusing on process serving and warrant service rather than traffic and investigation.

Anonymous said...

Keep you eyes on Montgomery County and the Precinct 4 Constable out East.
They work "drug interdiction" on Hwy 59, pulling folks over and making big busts. This guy will get out of control and bite off more than he can chew; hopefully before the next election.

Anonymous said...

ok, first of all-not all pcts are a waste of tx payers money. there are a few that actually work and to be quite frank-hpd and the s/o in harris county welcome the back up. i agree that there is no place in law enforcement for politics and that the good ol' boy system needs to disappear, after all it is 2011. all law enforcement agencies should be civil service, no one deparartment should be different from another-we all bleed red. sheriff's have contracts as well as constables and they do vacation watches also. hpd can not afford the time for community policing and if they could... their officers would be doing vacation watches too. truth be known? hpd, s/o and the connies all need each other-the city cant afford a big enough police force and the sheriff has to take care of the jail, so the patrol division is not large enough for the county. constables should be the patrol division for the sheriff and the sheriff should control the jail and supply the other divisions. constables should be able to transfer to other sheriff divisions within harris county-one big happy family. a cop is a cop, is a cop. and by the way cop is the acronym for constable on patrol---

Anonymous said...

Montgomery County Pct. 4 constables out of control already. They are know as the "cash cow" in Montgomery County. They are either unfamiliar with the Constitution and Bill of Rights or believe it does not apply to them. There is no accountability
The Montgomery County DAs office pursues all charges made without question because "they must stand behind there guys (cash cows)"

Anonymous said...

Why is a constable an anachronism and not a sheriff? Constables were here before the sheriff. And if you think sheriffs are immune from good ole boy cronyism then your neighbor must work for a Sheriff's Dept and y'all hunt or fish together.

In Harris County there are not enough sheriff deputies nor Houston officers. I gather the same people who think constables aren't needed are the same ones who gripe about hour long responses from sheriff or HPD. Constables have picked up a lot of the slack and many people have been helped by constables. So think on that next time you've waited an hour on someone to answer your call.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:42, actually IMO large counties would do well to consolidate police forces, including the Sheriff. But constables are smaller agencies and have expanded their activities beyond their traditional roles.

IMO coverage would be better if it weren't chopped up into so many fiefdoms, plus there's just not enough supervisory talent to run that many agencies. There's a lot of wasted resources from duplication of various departmental functions, from HR on down the list.

Finally, this is not a blog which "gripes about hour long responses," this is a place where we discuss solutions. If you want to know why response times are low, ask HPD sometime how many of their service calls are responses to false burglar alarms. In Austin the number is 12%. Reducing that number would do more to boost response times than buidling up lots of smaller agencies with their own extra bureaucracies, agendas, political intrigue, uncoordinated management, etc..