Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trouble With Houston Police Marshall's Office

Houston reporter Isiah Carey has posted two articles about how Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Vicki King wants to disband the city Marshall's office.

June 17 Post
HPD isn't saying they are going to lay off the officers in the Marshall's office. They say they are going to have them reassigned. Now, many veteran officers who land a good day shift with weekends and holidays off become creatures of habit. They are very resistant to change, especially if it means losing such a sweet work schedule. Their argument (to justify their existence) is about clearing the over 1 million HPD warrants that are active.

July 23 Post
In this post, someone sent Mr. Carey an anonymous email claiming racism. When all else fails, play the race card. After all, that has become the status quo.

Let me inform you on how "clearing warrants" works. An officer comes into contact with somebody on the streets (i.e. traffic stop, person stop, call for service, etc.). The officer checks the person (either by ID card, driver's license, or date-of-birth) through the local, state, and national databases looking for warrants. If the person is wanted, the warrant shows up. Now, the officer cannot arrest and haul the person to jail at that point. The officer must get confirmation of the warrant. This consists of contacting the law enforcement agency that wants the person arrested and brought to their jail. The officer (or their dispatcher) contacts the other agency and informs them they have a person who their computer says has a warrant. A representative of the warrant's originating agency goes to their file cabinet looking for the actual paper warrant. If the warrant is there, then the representative tells the officer/dispatcher that their warrant is active and they want the person in their jail. The officer is informed the warrant is "confirmed" and then the person is placed under arrest and taken to jail.

Now, in the first post, Mr. Carey asks Chief King about the 35,000 warrants cleared. However, I can promise you that the HPD Marshall's office did not locate all of these people on their own. The majority of these fugitives were arrested on other charges, or stopped on the street and checked by street officers. Someone at the Marshall's office answers the phone, gets the person's information, and goes looking for the paper copy of the warrant. I can tell you that in 2007, someone answered the phone 35,000 times and looked for 35,000 paper copies of warrants.

Now, with HPD under the gun for their manpower shortage, and for their massive overtime spending, what sense does it make for about 70 police officers to be paid to do a job that a handful of civilian clerks can do? Do people want more officers on the street? Do people want more detectives handling their cases? This seems to me, more of a case of HPD wanting to shift resources and complacent officers resisting the change to keep their nice work schedule. I can certainly understand a veteran officer not wanting to start over with a lousy shift and lousy days off. However, it's ultimately about how to best utilize police officers to serve the citizens.

1 comment:

N. said...

I have no personal knowledge regarding operations in the Cit of Houston, but in my experience other municipalities make good use of city Marshals for actively serving city warrants, transporting class C arrestees, performing bailiff duties in muni court etc.