13 Investigates: Are law enforcement staffing shortages affecting response?

Mycah Hatfield Image
Friday, May 5, 2023
13 Investigates shines light on staff shortages and police response
13 Investigates looks into the open positions at a handful of Houston-area law enforcement agencies, including San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office has been asked about the timeliness of their response to a quintuple murder late Friday night.

Francisco Oropeza was asked by neighbors to stop shooting his AR-15 in his yard because a newborn was trying to sleep, authorities said. He then allegedly stormed the neighbors' home, killing five of the 10 people inside, including a young boy, authorities said. Two of the women killed were found in a bedroom lying on top of two surviving children, authorities said.

During a news conference, San Jacinto County Deputy Sheriff Tim Kean said it took a deputy about 14 minutes to get to the scene.

At the time, the responding deputy was responding to a nearby armed robbery call. Had he not been in the area, Deputy Sheriff Kean said it takes about 30 minutes to get from the sheriff's office to the scene of the crime. San Jacinto County is 628 square miles.

"We've got poor roads," Kean said. "We are under-staffed, and welcome to rural law enforcement - this is the way most of the nation is right now."

The agency has 32 sworn-officer positions, excluding jail operations. Of that 32, six are unfilled.

"This is not a rich county," Kean said. "We've got three deputies on patrol to cover this entire county."

The San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office is working with 82% of its total force. The Harris County Sheriff's Office is responsible for 1,118 square miles and is 88% staffed, according to data obtained by 13 Investigates. On the far smaller end, the Galena Park Police Department is responsible for 5 square miles. Galena Park police are 78% staffed.

"One of the things we've done to fill in the gaps is if you're part of the command staff here, you have to be available for calls for service," Galena Park Police Chief Richard Wagner said. "So if we get unusually busy and all the patrolmen are tied up, then we get to get out of the office for a little bit and get to work, which is OK with us."

Currently, Galena Park PD has 13 full-time officers and eight part-time officers, who are mostly retirees from other departments that help fill in gaps. The department has between six and nine open positions.

Despite being down officers, Wagner said they are there whenever residents need them day or night.

The city does not have a high volume of calls for service, and they maintain a fewer than five-minute response time.

Wagner said they do not often have larger cases hit their jurisdiction, but when they do, there are other agencies that they can call in for additional manpower that they may need.

"We start calling for help by location," Wagner said. "Our first partner that we seek help from is Jacinto City, which is right next door. We do a lot of mutual aid back and forth with them."

San Jacinto County differs. The area is rural, and it doesn't have smaller law enforcement agencies stationed throughout the county to provide a faster response or immediate additional aid.

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