Garcia talks about new sheriff's office

November 26, 2008 8:58:39 PM PST
After running a tough campaign, Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia is running fast to lay the foundation for changes he wants to make to the Harris County Sheriff's Office in January. But he may not be getting all the help he needs from the man he beat on election day only Eyewitness News finds out.

This week, Adrian Garcia is just a visitor with sheriff's deputies.

But in 35 days they'll all work for him. Their successes and the department's well known challenges will all fall at his feet.

"We want to make sure this is as seamless as possible," Garcia told us.

That's probably easier to say than carry out.

Garcia soundly beat Tommy Thomas by 12 points on election night after a bitter campaign. As we first reported, Thomas never called Garcia afterwards. And while Garcia calls his one meeting since with Thomas cordial, it hasn't exactly been easy for Garcia to get vital information out of him. Last week he asked Sheriff Thomas for key documents about spending and the jail investigation.

"I have not received them," Garcia said. "It concerns me, but we're moving forward."

Garcia is in a tight spot. He is the first outsider to take the top job in 23 years. He will need help from insiders to run the place and keep a 12,000 inmate jail operation running. He says he wants to increase jail staff to reduce forced overtime and make changes in leadership.

"I don't think you get rid of everybody," Garcia said. "I think there will be a good balance between continuity and change."

He will meet with Thomas' top deputies next month, but he's also looking at other priorities. He has already met with the coast guard, FBI, DEA, HPD, ICE and the new district attorney.

"We should be working as a team so that we give the bad guys fewer places to go," Garcia said.

But his biggest job may be to change the culture of the sheriff's office. In recent months he says morale has suffered as scandal erupted. It's one of the reasons Garcia is already reaching out to deputies to let them know the rules are changing. They'll be supported in a new way but also held accountable.

"Every day we will have to be doing things to let people know that one we recognize that we're public servants and two we know we are a public entity doing a public function being paid for by taxpayer dollars," Garcia said.

He tells us that it is something that the office may have lost sight in recent years, adding he thinks if he can turn around morale, it will go a long way towards turning around public perception of the sheriff's office.

Of the 150 local elections on the ballot on November 4th, the sheriff's race was the third largest margin of victory.

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