Are you getting cheated out of patrol protection?

March 1, 2012 3:19:28 AM PST
The sheriff now is admitting what we've been telling you; If you live in the suburbs, you are not getting the patrols by your house you should get. 13 Undercover has a new message for taxpayers -- you're getting cheated again.

You pay lots in county taxes, but most of your neighborhoods decide to pay extra for protection. The constable's and the sheriff's office fight to get those contracts; the constable's offices usually win out, but are taxpayers also losing out?

They watch out for crime on Cherry Hills Road, and they don't count on the sheriff's office to do it.

"We don't like paying more taxes, but do we like the added security that we get from having the patrols around," taxpayer Greg Harkinson said.

That's why Greg Harkinson pays $800 in neighborhood dues every year. He gets 24-hour security from constables under a contract.

"The most extensive contract deputy program in the United States," Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke said.

Harkinson and his neighbors pay 100 percent of the cost.

"That's an affective way of getting additional personnel to patrol the neighborhood," he said.

It sure is, but many neighborhoods just pay a fraction of a deputy's time -- 70 or 80 percent. Taxpayers pay the rest and get the rest of his time. But even county auditors admit there's no way of knowing if someone is being cheated.

"You have to pick a side. Is it going to be the contract that gets cheated or is it the taxpayer that gets cheated? This is not selling shoes or bean counting," Harris County Pct. 4 Constable Ron Hickman said.

Constable cars don't have GPS, so no one can track where the contract deputies actually patrol.

"Really the only time he'll go out of that area is when he has a specific call?" we asked Hickman.

"For the most part, yes," he replied.

Take Glennlock Farms. They have three contract deputies and taxpayers pay 30 percent, so you figure they 30 percent of their time. But in November, dispatch records show taxpayers got just 14 percent.

"Clearly it's time to look at that and say, is this the best way ought to be doing business?" Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

"I would say that you could argue that your taxpayers are being cheated," Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack said.

That admission comes after our constable investigation began. You pay 20 percent of the Precinct 6 deputies' time we found guarding an oil tool company. But on hidden camera, they told us they almost never leave.

"Your only assignment is to just be in here?" we asked one deputy.

"Here, that's it, yeah," he said.

A downtown condo is guarded by a Precinct 7 deputy for $73,000 a year. It's good deal for them, but where did they get that 30 percent off coupon? Taxpayers are paying the rest of the deputy's time, yet dispatch records show he doesn't leave the parking lot.

"I believe that Commissioners Court should go ahead and review these contracts," Radack said.

We're still waiting, which is why we've had all this time to take Harris County taxpayers on this 'Fantastic Voyage,' a 60's classic about shrinking scientists in a tiny sub traveling through the arteries and veins of a patient.

Harris County is huge, but it's only 1,700 square miles. Still, I hope you've gotten our points across.

See if this makes you feel safe.

"I've never seen what their guys' deployment looks like," Hickman said.

"It is difficult at times that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and sometimes it could be viewed as competition," Harris County Sheriff's Office Major Ronnie Silvio said.

"This is one more area where we've got a problem with regard to the layers of law enforcement not cooperating with each other," Cagle said.

We're still a long way from knowing how to shrink submarines. But it is 2012. We can certainly track where all our patrol cars go.

"At the beginning of the day, the middle of the day and the end of day, we should know who's the closest cop to be able to take care of a crisis," Cagle said.

The sheriff's department dispatch could use the same signals we did to map where their patrol cars go. They just don't. Constable's office cars don't have GPS, so even 911 dispatchers can't see where they are.

"I don't think we, the sheriff's office, have that information," Silvio said.

"Right. That's a problem," we said.

"Could be," he replied.

And on 13 Undercover Interactive, find out how your neighborhood can find out if it's getting what it pays for from the contract deputy contract. Nearly 10,000 folks have already checked out the map, even though the county attorney didn't want you to see it.