Friday, July 18, 2008

More Contract Deputy News

Once again the contract deputy program is back in the news. What I found strange in the chronicle's article is a seemingly turn around for County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. Read this other blog post to take a look at the turn around. First, here are the nuts and bolts of the contract deputy program;

A neighborhood, or a utility district enter into a contract with the county for extra patrol. The district (meaning neighborhood, business, and utility for my purpose) pays somewhere around $56,000 (a ballpark figure) to the county who assigns a deputy (sheriff or constable). The deputy is contracted to spend 70% to 80% of their working time in the district. Granted, a lot of the job there is public relations, but, the deputy patrolling is a peace officer and bound by the same rules, laws, etc. as are all peace officers in Texas.

This naturally leads to critics' arguments of (1) this only benefits rich neighborhoods, (2) residents of the districts are unofficially exempt from law enforcement actions, (3) people who do not live in the neighborhood are 'hassled,' (4) the deputies are 'owned' by the homeowner association/MUD/business district/etc.
Many lower class neighborhoods have a contract deputy due to MUD taxes.
District residents complain all of the time about being ticketed, or arrested by their 'neighborhood' deputy
It's still a free country. Deputies cannot arrest or detain anyone without cause.
Boards are told all the time that there are issues the deputy cannot get involved in and to handle it themselves.
Also, many unincorporated areas would not have a police presence (unless someone dialed 911) if it weren't for contract deputies.

The crux of this story if the sheriff's department. They are short handed and have been for years. The simple solution would be not to enter into a contract unless sufficient personnel are available. The majority of the contract districts are patrolled by constables. This does unnecessarily created bad blood between many in the sheriff's department and constable's departments. Apparently unknown by many, constables are police officers. They were the original police force in Texas (before statehood). Nowadays, constables generally serve civil papers, however constables have full police powers and can (and do) make arrests. Remember, it was constables who arrested Sheriff Tommy Thomas' son Brent. It was also constables who arrested Houston Mayor Bill White's daughter for driving while intoxicated. There are two schools of thought on this. Some say to integrate the sheriff's department with all of the constable departments (can someone tell me, does the sheriff's department still not recognize peace officer certifications outside its own academy). Others say to let the constables handle the contract deputy programs and let the sheriffs handle the rest of the county. Either way, both departments serve essentially the same purpose. Certainly no disrespect to the sheriff's department, but they are not the only topping on the pizza despite what many of them may think.

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