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How many police forces do we need?

It’s an age-old question.

Harris County could save millions of dollars a year by consolidating overlapping law enforcement agencies, from sharing technological resources to reallocating duties from constables to the sheriff’s department, according to a report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

The report, which was released Thursday, revives several decades-old ideas to combine resources between law enforcement agencies in Harris County, despite likely opposition from the agencies and county government, which would have the ultimate authority in enacting many of the proposed changes.

[…]

Kinder studied the 60 law enforcement agencies that form a patchwork of separate but sometimes overlapping patrols within Harris County, including the sheriff’s office, the Houston Police Department, constables’ offices, school district police departments and smaller municipal police departments. Those agencies spend a combined $1.6 billion per year on law enforcement, according to the report.

“We do have a system that, for all intents and purposes, is working fairly well,” Kinder researcher Kyle Shelton said. “But there are clearly places where there are overlaps and places where we could see what efficiencies would work.”

Among ideas included in the report are a merger of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s police department with the Houston Police Department, and the consolidation of smaller municipal police departments into a larger network.

One of the report’s most aggressive ideas to consolidate would be to move patrol duties from the eight Harris County constables’ offices to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Political opposition to that idea would be too difficult to overcome because agencies would have to cede governing power, [County Commissioner Steve] Radack said.

“People can study it and study it and study it, but I can assure you … the people that are really familiar with this are all going to say, no” said Radack, who was formerly the Precinct 5 constable.

You can see the report here. Two points I would add: One, this is not limited to Harris County. Two, the list above leaves out police departments associated with universities, community colleges, and medical schools. There’s a lot of law enforcement agencies out there.

I find it interesting that the main argument against any sort of consolidation is that there would be political opposition to it, as Commissioner Radack notes. I don’t doubt that he’s right, but it’s not a reason, it’s a justification. Some reforms would require legislative assistance – Constables are constitutional offices, after all – while others shouldn’t need anything more than various entities working together. I’m pretty sure that there’s a dollar figure that could be attached to each recommendation in that report. Maybe if we start talking about it, we can decide what if any of these ideas are really worth pursuing, even in the face of political opposition.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I would like to know how long the myriad of policing agencies have actually been around. Take the school district police agencies. When I attended public school, I don’t remember having school district police. At some point, there were no school district police departments, and the world did not end. Why is it every district needs their own police department now?

    It seems like we could put all officers under the purview of city police, county sheriffs, and, because it’s a constitutional office, constables. We could dramatically shrink the various constables’ offices by getting them back to their primary mission…..serving warrants, rather than operating speed traps on the tollway.

  2. Ross says:

    ISD police departments look like they were authorized in 1995 in the Texas Education Code section 37.081. They are focused on policing the schools, and presumably came into being because other agencies weren’t responding to calls for service in a timely manner. I know that a former Chief of the HISD police told me that they monitor cameras at all of the schools, and are able to respond very quickly to intruders at night, whereas HPD or HCSO would never show up, since there’s other calls they deem more important.

    I would eliminate the patrol role for Constables, and eliminate the neighborhood funded deputies and Constables as well – I see no need to allow better off neighborhoods to pay for more “real” police. They can get in line with the rest of us, or pay for private security to scare people off. I am particularly opposed to hired deputies enforcing deed restriction issues like “No Soliciting” signs in suburban HOA areas.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    I have suggested the same thing, but everyone ridiculed it, “they are different jurisdictions!” I had said that I would create interagency compacts so that the overabundance of police agencies could coordinate their efforts. I’ve never lived in a place before where constables run around speed trapping, or get hired by the wealthy as their personal militia. Meanwhile, the Texas Medical Center has police and security guards, used to run off the mentally ill who are poor and turned away from all of its hospitals. This force is used to photograph the homeless, tell them to leave and never come back, and go to the Metro platform instead. then, Metro police handle them and tell them to go to Hermann Park, where the park police can hassle them. There are about 20 police agencies inside the loop alone, yet crime is increasing. I would like to get funding to make a documentary about the homeless, or perhaps about TMC as the largest open air psychiatric ward in the country. But I am sure that the Kinder Institute will have more credibility than I do.

  4. ‪Another boring idea from a Rice University think tank shows us how to save $10 a month.

    That’s probably why David Leebron still can’t figure out something as simple as 6 weeks of paid family leave.‬

    ‪http://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/austin-peay-state-university-will-offer-paid-parental-leave-after-requests-faculty#stream/0‬