The Chron has a long story about the disciplinary issues at the Sheriff’s Department.
A Houston Chronicle review of Sheriff’s Office discipline reports from 2007 to August provides a sobering look into a department plagued by deputies, jailers and civilians accused of violating laws they are charged to enforce and breaking department policies more than 1,200 times in the past four-and-a-half years.
In all, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has fired 81 deputies and jailers from January 2009 through August, considerably more than the 36 employees let go by his predecessor, Tommy Thomas, during 2007 and 2008. Garcia, who took over the department in January 2009, has also suspended 273 employees without pay and given 414 written reprimands.
Garcia, a former Houston police officer, offered no insight on why employees continue to be cited for serious misbehavior, anymore than he could explain the ongoing drought.
“I don’t know why we haven’t had any rain,” Garcia said. “Why they make those decisions, I don’t know.”
He said he decided not to examine past disciplinary actions to identify and remove any “bad apples” he inherited when he took office in early 2009. Instead, he felt it was more important to triple his internal affairs unit to reduce a backlog of more than 160 internal affairs complaints pending against deputies when he took office.
Garcia said the county’s hiring freeze has caused him, in less serious cases, to be lenient on employees because if he fires them they cannot be replaced.
As an example, Garcia said in past years jailers caught sleeping on duty would be fired.
But he only terminated one of 18 jailers and deputies caught napping since 2009, the records show.
“One of the key mandates that I have continuously worked at is to make sure we are protecting the public’s trust,” Garcia said. “Unfortunately, since we are dealing with human beings, mistakes will occur. Poor judgment will occur. But what the citizens can take away is, even though I’m under a forced hiring freeze, even though I’ve lost hundreds of employees, I continue to investigate and terminate, where most appropriate, those employees who are making the most egregious type of misconduct.”
The bit about being lenient on some employees because they can’t be replaced if they get fired due to a hiring freeze is something I hadn’t thought about before. We already know that the county’s inflexible and ill-advised policy has cost millions of dollars in overtime, and now we see that it means the Sheriff can’t properly administer discipline as needed. Much like across-the-board budget cuts, hiring freezes are generally geared towards publicity rather than good policy, and the results bear that out.
Beyond that, the article focuses mostly on the individual stories, and doesn’t really consider a political angle. It’s easy enough to point out that if Tommy Thomas had done a better job of keeping his house in order, there would be fewer of these issues for Adrian Garcia to deal with, but that kind of message could be hard to get out if an opponent attacks Garcia strongly enough. As the story was lacking the obligatory boorish quote from County Commissioner Steve Radack, it’s a little hard to say what such an attack might look like. I’m sure it’s out there, though, and we’ll see it next year.