Harris County Safe: County’s $2.6 million crime initiative falls short of staffing goals

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) – Law enforcement agency staffing goals have not been met in the first 50 days of a $2.6 million crime-fighting initiative in Harris County.

The Commissioner’s Court approved Harris County Safe on November 30 and subsequently launched on December 13, 2021.

The 24-page proposal identified seven crime hotspots, or micro-zones. The plan called for 96 MPs to work overtime for 120 days in the hotspot areas to reduce crime.

The proposal even identified when crime in each area had proven to be at its worst if MPs would step up patrols.

Data obtained from ABC13 shows in MPs’ first 50 days:

  • 197 arrests for criminal offenses
  • 173 misdemeanor arrests
  • Completed 117 penalty orders
  • 334 arrest warrants for administrative offenses deleted
  • 108 firearms confiscated
  • 31 stolen vehicles recovered
  • Issued 836 traffic quotes
  • Issued 3,618 traffic warnings

Data for February is not yet available.

“We’ve seen a 5% reduction over the last 60 days in these areas that we work in,” said Maj. Susan Cotter of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Bureau.

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However, according to data, filling the program has proven to be a challenge for Harris County.

Records obtained by ABC13 show that the highest number they had was 36 and the lowest on Christmas Day was three. It was seven days in the single digits. Harris County Safe averaged 20 deputies in the first 50 days.

Cotter said the program competes with other overtime programs when asked about staffing, saying they don’t have enough cars.

“We all know there’s a shortage of cars nationwide,” Cotter said. “We all know it’s impacted consumers, but it’s impacted us too. I have cars that run 24/7 so the guys need to have a car to work in too.”

In January, ABC13 reported that during the Nov. 30 commissioners’ court, Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the police officers were on board to attend.

“We don’t have all the people to send out there,” Cotter said. “Staffing was with the constables. We are working very closely with all Constable agencies and are asking for their help with the initiative.”

Police officers told ABC13 they were only aware of the scheme after the commissioners passed it. They decided not to participate, mainly for staffing reasons.

In the past week, Districts 3, 4, and 5 have begun helping or are making plans to begin.

“I’m thrilled they changed course to be a part of this initiative,” Judge Hidalgo said. “Now that we have that I am confident and have been advised by the organizers that we will be able to increase that staffing level.”

“If you’ve got enough feet on the ground, an overtime program helps,” said Jack Cagle, District 4 Commissioner. “If you don’t have enough to learn your basics, go into a fancy little program like this with a fancy little.” Brochure that you got from your counselor that you paid money for and that is from another city in another place, don’t go to work.”

The sheriff’s office received $2.6 million to fund the program. In the first 58 days they spent $223,403. If their spending stays the same for the rest of the program, they’re on track to use $462,214.

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Commissioner Garcia and Judge Hidalgo hope to extend the program.

“We will never pull the plug,” Commissioner Garcia said. “Any other day I’d more likely agree with you that they might be underperforming, but you have to keep in mind that there has been a high turnover due to the pandemic. I applaud their success to date and recognize that perhaps if they make this permanent it means adding more staff to the program.”

Commissioner Cagle believes the money should be used to hire more law enforcement staff.

“The money from the program that has not been used must be taken and given to our local law enforcement agencies as they have requested,” Commissioner Cagle said. “We need more boots on site. We need more prosecutors to bring these cases to court.”

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Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All rights reserved. Harris County Safe: County’s $2.6 million crime initiative falls short of staffing goals

Dais Johnston

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