If unincorporated Harris County was a city, it would be one of the largest in the country. It has a million and half people. They all pay taxes for the sheriff's office to patrol -- nearly $40 million a year; then most folks pay more for contract deputies. But are you getting cheated with all these layers of law enforcement?
Let's go for a drive down Stuebner Airline. See the Harris County Sheriff's Office patrol car riding alongside? Now we'll show you something you can't see. That patrol car is sending a signal to a satellite, way up there in space. It can show us where patrol cars go, and more importantly, where they don't go.
"I walk here by myself a lot," a Harris County resident named Pam said.
And Pency the poodle isn't much of a guard dog, so Pam wants to think a sheriff's car could patrol right past her.
"I do expect it, but I don't feel that we get it," she said.
Sadie Thomas pays $11,000 in property taxes.
"I've never seen them here," Thomas said.
Now we'll show them, and you, the truth.
"It's pretty amazing. I'm shocked, I'm really shocked at that," Pam said.
And here's how we did it: In November, the sheriff's office captured 4. 7 million of those patrol car signals.
"Have you ever seen the movie Fantastic Voyage?" we asked Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle.
"I have," he said.
From a distance on a map, those patrol cars sure look like millions of tiny red blood cells flowing through Harris County roads. Looks like they are everywhere. So, come on taxpayers, let's take our own fantastic voyage.
There are plenty of patrol cars moving through the major arteries. But let's take a look at those tiny veins -- your street, even your house.
"I personally would want to make sure that occasionally, my vein got touched by those who are elected to serve me," Cagle said.
Entering Champions Drive, just north of FM 1960, the sign says patrolled by Sheriff Adrian Garcia. But turn down Point Clear Drive and look at this sign for Tommy Thomas. He hasn't been sheriff for nearly four years. It's symbolic.
Debbie Holzman came out of her house to chat.
"How often do you see the sheriff's department?" we asked her.
"Never," she replied.
Let's watch 30 days of the map. A sheriff's patrol car came into this huge northwest Harris County neighborhood just twice -- for a total time of two and half minutes; and both times, they came from Champions, headed down Cherry Hills to another major artery, Cutten Road.
"I'm shocked. This is a shortcut street, so they probably were just taking a shortcut," Holzman said.
"We try to concentrate on the hot spots because being down 200 patrolman, you know, you can't be everywhere at once," Harris County Major Ronnie Silvio said.
And they do spend a lot of time cruising the arteries along the strip shopping centers.
"More likely, you're going to get your car burglarized, you're going to get robbed, you're going to get assaulted in those parking lots, in those heavily traveled strip centers," Silvio said.
But what about the crooks who leave the arteries to prey on the people who live on the veins?
"It's unfortunate to see that kind of absence of coverage, if you will," Harris County Pct. 4 Constable Ron Hickman said.
Now you can understand why so many neighborhoods pay extra money to get contract deputies. In Champions, they use Precinct 4 Constable's Office.
"If I lived in a cul-de-sac in a community, I sure would like to make sure that guy made my house too," Hickman said.
"You want every guy you pay for driving by your house?" we asked Cagle.
"Well that's logic," he said.
But that's not happening in Holzman's neighborhood.
"Do you feel cheated?" we asked her.
"Absolutely. We paid taxes for all of it, but we're only getting what we're paying extra for apparently," Holzman said.
This fantastic voyage will sure open taxpayers' eyes.
"That is ridiculous. As much as I pay for taxes, that is not right," Thomas said.
We've used the latest technology, and with the help of Esri's ArcGIS online mapping system, we plotted every single movement of every sheriff's car for an entire month.
Look at the map: patrol cars love to drive on the main arteries. This is Veterans Memorial and 1960. But take a closer look into the neighborhoods, and you don't see the blue anymore.