Questions raised over deputies as drivers

March 4, 2009 6:04:49 PM PST
Part time personal drivers for some county officials -- it's a duty that's sparking some debate. Sheriff Adrian Garcia is speaking out about the position for the first time.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Is it a perk or a legitimate security need? Several county commissioners are asking that question after learning that deputes have been assigned to a detail that in part includes taking county leaders where they need to go.

Sheriff Garcia has assigned two veteran deputies making $40,000 and $60,000 a year to a part-time duty which he calls "security detail" protecting him and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. The move, which has never been done before by the county, was done without the knowledge of the commissioner's court. That's a concern to Commissioner Steve Radack.

"What he's doing in my opinion is not right," Radack said. "It doesn't follow the state law as far as I'm concerned, to allocate resources in a way that was not approved in a budgetary process."

Though a newspaper article called the deputies "chauffeurs," Sheriff Garcia says that's not their primary function.

"To be referred to as chauffeurs is wrong, just plain wrong," he said. "I'm disappointed that that characterization was made."

Yes, Garcia says the deputies do drive him and Emmett to some functions, but not every day and not everywhere. He says their primary job is to protect the elected leaders. When they're not on this detail he says the deputies are tasked with tracking public complaints about crime hot spots around the county.

Garcia adds that having the deputies drive allows them to do the county's business, as opposed to concentrating on the road. Garcia admits he wants more deputies on the streets, so we asked him why not the two who are protecting him and the judge?

"Two people can do a lot of things, but two people can also help the county judge and myself do the functions that we need to do," Garcia explained.

County Judge Emmett's office says this sort of security detail is necessary in a county the size of Harris. The sheriff says he has the right to assign staff as he sees fit to the betterment of the community.

It's worth noting that the mayor of Houston has an HPD security detail that includes a driver and up to two officers. Police Chief Hurtt also has a driver. This is not an entirely new idea, just one new to Harris County.

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