Election Q&A: Harris County Sheriff

*Indicates incumbent

Ed Gonzalez*

Occupation: Harris County sheriff
Experience: four years as sheriff; Houston mayor pro tem; chair of Houston City Council Public Safety Committee; 18 years with the Houston Police Department, rising to the rank of sergeant, leading homicide investigations and serving on the elite hostage negotiation team; bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston Downtown
Contact: www.edgonzalez.com

What is the top issue you would address if elected?

EG: My first priority is always public safety. I get up every morning and work hard every day to keep Harris County safe-through hurricanes, floods and this pandemic-and, of course, from crime. In addition to keeping our neighborhoods free from crime, we'll continue to transform outdated models for how jails should work. For example, we've set up the first 24-hour diversion desk to ensure people with mental health challenges get treatment instead of jail.

Why are you the most qualified candidate for this position?

EG: As the current sheriff, I've been a proven, innovative police executive. I eliminated a budget deficit and freed up more funds for public safety. When I took over, the jail was under a federal consent decree; we successfully transitioned and are no longer under the court's review. I've taken a sensible approach to policing: We strike a balance between maintaining strong public safety and finding opportunities to better assist those suffering with mental illness and addiction.

If elected, what will you do to ensure your officers and those they come in contact with are protected from COVID-19?

EG: The department is following Centers for Disease Control and local guidelines based on the latest science and research. In addition, we have provided deputies and jail staff with personal protective equipment, including face masks, eye goggles, gloves and body suits. Patrol deputies have even been given cleaning materials they are using to disinfect their vehicles any time they are called upon to transport a suspect.

If elected, what will you do to ensure police brutality is not an issue in the Harris County Sheriff's Office?

EG: From a policing standpoint, we must remain proactive in reducing violent crime. The safety of Harris County residents is my North Star. I strongly support evidence-based programs that help life all communities and create more harm-reduction opportunities. We prohibit chokeholds. We've implemented a duty-to-report policy. We're increasing audits of body cameras and taser use. We'll continue to build a more effective, equitable and thoughtful approach to law enforcement.

If elected, what will you do to establish/maintain trust between law enforcement and Harris County residents?

EG: We are working to build a sheriff's office that provides public safety for all residents of Harris County-rich, poor, Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, documented, undocumented, straight, LGBTQ+. WE will do so in a manner that is research-driven and treats everyone fairly and with respect. We will arrest and jail those who commit crimes but work to divert homeless, mentally ill and addicted persons to programs that can help with their issues.

What is your stance on Harris County's bail bond reform?

EG: For me, the biggest priority is the safety of our community as we implement the federal court decision. We've been proactive in expanding crime suppression programs to reduce crime in our communities. A balance is needed between assisting nonviolent individuals while proactively limiting serious offenders that terrorize our communities.

Joe Danna

Occupation: master peace officer
Experience: 27 years as a law enforcement officer in Harris County
Contact: www.dannaforsheriff.com

What is the top issue you would address if elected?

JD: Harris County is in the midst of a safety crisis. Per the Harris County Budget Management Department, there are 101 budgeted, unfilled positions for deputies and sergeants. The current Sheriff has $25 million more than the previous administration, and yet there are less officers, less than 13% clearance rate for rape cases and less than 3% clearance rate for burglaries. The officers we do have are overloaded, overwhelmed and undervalued, and Harris County residents are underserved.

Why are you the most qualified candidate for this position?

JD: Credentials and political experience don't mean much if you don't know the community's needs on a granular level. I've got that knowledge, and I know how to solve problems. I've spent nearly 30 years working at the street level of Harris County law enforcement. I've successfully worked with different departments within HCSO and FBI. As a small-business owner, I manage teams, oversee budgets and have an instinct for surrounding myself with productive staff.

If elected, what will you do to ensure your officers and those they come in contact with are protected from COVID-19?

JD: Prevention training is the No. 1 issue I see. COVID jailer and officer training and retraining have become nonexistent. Mitigation efforts need to be ongoing. Officers need to feel confident that their personal health is safe, respected and important through frequent training, PPE fit checks and inventory monitoring. Law enforcement officers are on the front line, providing safety for the community; they are owed our best efforts to keep them from falling ill.

If elected, what will you do to ensure police brutality is not an issue in the Harris County Sheriff's Office?

JD: First, organizational change needs to be implemented in HCSO, which will usher in a culture shift to help restore trust in the way officers interact with our community and each other. More specifically, when I am sheriff, my officers will be required to follow the 1-Plus Rule, which simply means officers, under normal circumstances, are only allowed to use one level of force above the amount of force used by the suspect/attacker/adversary.

If elected, what will you do to establish/maintain trust between law enforcement and Harris County residents?

JD: Dialogue between citizens and law enforcement will be real, frequent and tangible. I want meetings in the community, out and open and in public-not these closed-door meetings where nothing happens except current leaders pat each other on the back and sweep issues under the rug. Voices of citizens most affected by law enforcement need to be heard. As sheriff, we will form relationships and partnerships based on understanding, dialogue and mutual respect.

What is your stance on Harris County's bail bond reform?

JD: It has contributed to the degradation of safety in Harris County. For the last two years, the work of law enforcement officers has been subverted by judges playing fast and loose with lenient bond policies. There are multiple examples of violent repeat offenders in Harris County being released on extremely low bonds that have gone on to commit murder. A murder suspect with alleged gang ties was released last month on his sixth bond.