The politics of protection

February 29, 2012 4:44:44 AM PST
More than a million and a half people in Harris County hire extra lawmen to watch their homes, even though they already pay millions of dollars in taxes to both the sheriff's and the constable's offices to protect them.

On Monday night, we showed you that paying for extra lawmen doesn't mean you get extra lawmen. And explain this logic -- the sheriff's department and the constable's office actually fight it out for the right to make more money patrolling your neighborhood.

The sign says 'Patrolled by the Sheriff,' but just around the corner, there's another sign that says patrolled by 'Precinct Four Constable.' But it's the very same neighborhood.

"You don't even know what to call the gentleman in blue or brown or tan," Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle said.

You pay taxes for both of them, even though they patrol the very same turf.

"This is the only place I know that does that. Usually, you just have one law enforcement agency that's monitoring your neighborhood so it doesn't make any sense," taxpayer Debbie Holzman said.

And then your neighborhood probably makes you pay even more to hire contract deputies.

"Contract law enforcement provides almost half of all street-level enforcement in the entire county," Harris County Pct. 4 Constable Ron Hickman said.

"Most of our homeowners, most of our residents, view this program as being a right," Cagle said.

"I got to have a contract deputy because if I don't, I've got nobody going by my house?" we asked Cagle.

"And I'm sure there are many people who may feel that way," he said.

Maybe with good reason. Using the signals sent by patrol cars, all the way to space through a satellite, we've already showed you the truth.

"How much time do you think the sheriff's department spent in this entire neighborhood in a month?" we asked Holzman.

"I don't know, 40 hours maybe?" she replied.

Actually, it was two and a half minutes for the entire month of November.

"And now I'm really upset about it, very upset about it," taxpayer Pam Dalbaum said.

"I want to stress that we are short 200 patrolman and we run call to call to call -- 1.8 million calls for service. Our guys are very busy," Harris County Sheriff's Office Major Ronnie Silvio said.

And remember, there is power in those patrol cars. The politics of protection.

"You're one of the most powerful constables in the state," we told Hickman.

"Well I appreciate that," he replied.

The Precinct 4 Constable's Office now provides contract deputies for half a million people.

"I see them every day," taxpayer Sadie Thomas said.

"But you pay extra for that?" we asked.

"Yes, we do," Thomas said.

And different neighborhoods pay different amounts, depending on how much of the deputies' time they want devoted to their neighborhood.

"An entity engaging on a contract ought to stand by their word with regard to that contract," Cagle said.

But now listen to the county's lawyer.

"The contract -- whether it's a 70, 30, 80, 20, 100 percent -- is a handshake. Ultimately, it is a relationship between the neighborhood and the independent elected official who is providing that service," Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke said.

In Holzman's neighborhood, it's fairly simple. They pay $468,000 a year for their five contract deputies, which is 100 percent of the cost. But lots of neighborhoods pay just a fraction of the cost and taxpayers pay the rest. But who makes sure taxpayers are getting their promised fair share time? The answer? Maybe no one.

"You would think it would be tracked concisely; they are always talking about budgets and yet, they don't keep track of any of this stuff. It makes no sense," Holzman said.

Apparently, we've made some folks mad. County Attorney Vince Ryan sent us a letter on Tuesday after checking his own house, telling us to take the map down. He argued it revealed law enforcement patterns. But the information we posted is three months old -- and we got it from the sheriff's office in the first place.

We think you have the right to see all the patrol activity for yourself, so check it out