Historic endorsement from local deputies

July 25, 2008 4:48:30 PM PDT
It's a first within the Harris County Sheriff's Department. Union deputies went out of their way to make it clear they want a new sheriff in town after the next election. For the first time, deputy unions came together Friday to endorse a candidate who is running against their boss. The announcement comes after several 13 Undercover investigations into the sheriff's department.

Along the banks of the Houston Ship Channel, Democratic sheriff candidate Adrian Garcia received the most significant endorsement of his campaign.

"I'm extremely honored to accept the endorsement of the three organizations that account for a significant majority of the members of the Harris County Sheriff's Office," said Garcia Friday.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Harris County Deputies Organization, The Mexican-American Sheriff's Organization and the African-American Deputies League, all endorsed Garcia, saying the incumbent sheriff Tommy Thomas left them no other options.

"I just point blank sat down with the sheriff and said, 'Sir, can you give me a date you'll meet with us' and he just said, 'I don't feel it's necessary'," said Richard Newby, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization.

Sheriff Thomas responded with a statement, saying in part, "Although I would have liked to have had the endorsement of the union, I am not surprised they endorsed my Democratic opponent, since they have endorsed Democrats in other countywide races."

Union representatives say they just grew frustrated.

"He refused to meet with us. He told us he didn't want to talk to us and that we have to hash our own situations out," said James Phillips with the African-American Sheriff's Deputy League.

The unions say even though the sheriff has been plagued with problems, those aren't the major concerns. They'd like to see staffing beefed up, wages increased and perhaps most importantly, an even enforcement of disciplinary action.

"Two people make the same mistake and one person should get fired immediately, and the other person just get a few days off," said Newby.

Below is a response to the endorsement by Sheriff Tommy Thomas

On July 25, 2008, the Harris County Sheriff's Deputies Organization announced its endorsement of Adrian Garcia for Sheriff of Harris County. According to the Houston Chronicle article detailing this endorsement, a location along the Houston Ship channel was chosen as the site for the news conference to illustrate "?Garcia's platform on the sheriff's role in securing Houston's industrial assets."

The Harris County Sheriffs Office, under the leadership of Sheriff Tommy Thomas, has been securing the channel and the petrochemical facilities along the waterway for years. To build upon what is already in place, the Sheriff's Office secured a Homeland Security grant that has allowed us to purchase four additional patrol boats. A staff of one sergeant and six deputies has also been selected to provide an even greater presence along the channel. The Sheriff's Office has been, and continues, working cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard and private industry to secure this critical infrastructure.

On the recruiting front, the Sheriff's Office continues to recruit qualified personnel to staff the jails and patrol positions. Not unlike every other law enforcement agency in the nation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit, train, and retain qualified individuals. We have spent $59,000.00 on a recruiting video and enhanced our website to highlight the Sheriff's Office and attract more candidates. These upgrades were paid for from seized funds and therefore were not in any way a burden to the taxpayers of Harris County.

The preliminary results from the website upgrade are very encouraging. In June 2008, the site was visited over 76,000 times by 40,500 individuals. The apply-now section of the site was visited over 4600 times and we are greatly optimistic that we will see a rise in the number of applicants being processed.

In short, the Harris County Sheriff's Office is a professional organization that continues to be at the forefront of law enforcement agencies across the state and country. Although I would like to have had the endorsement of the union, I am not surprised they endorsed my Democrat opponent since they have endorsed Democrats in other countywide races. As Harris County Sheriff, I am charged with administering the 3rd largest Sheriff's Office in the country. There are times when the administration of all law enforcement agencies will be at odds with labor organizations on various issues. I have worked with the union leadership as much as possible, while still holding fast to my commitment to integrity, professionalism, and accountability. My decisions, while some not popular with the unions, are made with the citizens of Harris County and the greater good of the Harris County Sheriff's Office in mind.

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