Pay to play policing E-mail
Written by APB Staff   

In some parts of the country there is a tremendous debate about the loss of jobs of certified peace officers as the result of the trend of smaller communities contracting out police services to other agencies or private contractors. But in Harris County Texas, deputies are wearing both hats – county law enforcement professional and “contract deputy.”

The Harris County contract deputy program was created to supplement the patrols of sheriff’s deputies in unincorporated areas. But now the program might be undermining the regular patrols paid by taxpayers.

Statistics reported recently by the Houston Chronicle’s Liz Austin Peterson show that while deputy openings in the contract program are swiftly filled, 67 of the department’s 352 regular patrol positions are vacant.And close to half of the 530 patrol officers in the county are assigned to contract duties.

Some officers were removed from regular positions to fill contract vacancies and they were never replaced. Although property owners pay taxes, the affluent and middle-income groups that can afford to hire contract deputies appear to get better police protection. Deputy Bob Goerlitz told Peterson in an interview that non-contract deputies are overwhelmed with the volume of calls and have little time for anything other than emergency response.

Under the contract program, civic associations and other groups and individuals pay the county nearly $56,000 a year for the services of a contract deputy. That officer is  expected to spend about 70 percent of his or her time patrolling the agreed upon area.

According to internal e-mails, only in life-threatening emergencies were deputies to answer calls outside the contract zone. That means deputies respond to residents with contracts in minutes.

Because of the shortage of regular officers, response time for residents who  don’t pay for their own deputies can be more than an hour, even for threats as serious as home burglaries.


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