Patrol-service consolidation could save money, make Harris County safer

Consolidating patrol responsibilities carried out by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and county constables could increase efficiency and allow funding for the constables’ $127 million patrol-related budget to be put to better use within law enforcement, according to a new report from Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

police lightsThis boost to the sheriff’s budget could be used to increase the number of patrol units under the office’s control, the report suggests. The report also showed that Harris County could potentially save more than $20 million per year by requiring that contracting entities cover the full salary of sheriff and constable deputies.

“Collaborations and Overlapping Services in Harris County Law Enforcement” is the second report in a larger effort by the Kinder Institute to address critical issues of governance in the Greater Houston area. The work began with a 2016 report on the city’s pension system. The report was developed by Kinder Institute researchers Bill Fulton, Kyle Shelton and Carlos Villegas in conjunction with TischlerBise, a fiscal and economic planning consulting firm. It examines local law enforcement agencies and the services they provide, documents overlapping services, identifies areas where successful collaborations have taken place, identifies future options for collaboration or consolidation and describes pros and cons of possible options.

The report’s key finding was that consolidation of patrol responsibilities within the sheriff’s office would reduce administrative expenses and could free up to $127 million in the sheriff’s budget, which could be used to increase the number of patrol officers under the sheriff’s control by 1,500.

“Since the Harris County Commissioners Court supports both the sheriff’s office and the constables, that body could work together to combine duties in a way that leads to greater law enforcement service equity and cost savings,” said Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute. “The constables would reduce their administrative needs considerably since patrol administration accounts for a huge proportion of each precinct’s work. Although the sheriff would be adding responsibilities, there would likely be efficiencies and savings created by eliminating or reducing duplicative administrative services.”

The report also showed that Harris County could save as much as $22 million per year by requiring that contracts cover the full salaries of sheriff and constable deputies. “Currently, Contract Deputy Program arrangements require contracting entities to pay somewhere between 70 and 100 percent of a deputy’s time,” Fulton said. “If all contracting entities are required to pay the full salary of their contract deputies, it would reduce the amount of general funds dedicated to law enforcement.”

Another major finding is that efficiency could be improved by reforming and/or consolidating highway patrol and enforcement responsibility in Harris County, duties currently divided between multiple agencies.

“Traffic accidents not only cause substantial headaches for commuters and business, they also complicate local law enforcement operations,” Fulton said. “Major traffic incidents often remove patrol officers from their normal beats. In addition, law enforcement on Houston’s highways is carried out by a mixture of agencies, including the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Constable’s Offices, METRO police and smaller city departments.”

Fulton said that Houston’s current law enforcement structure could benefit from a shakeup.

“In addition to allowing some agencies to free up funds and staff for other issues, it could also improve overall mobility for the region,” he said. “Houston TranStar, a well-proven regional body that manages traffic issues and emergency situations, offers the opportunity to consider ways to consolidate traffic management and highway enforcement.

“Our intention for this report was to convey the landscape in a meaningful way and then dig deeper with agencies and stakeholders to address specific options going forward,” Fulton said.

The study draws from quantitative and qualitative research. Interviews were conducted with leaders from several local police agencies and elected officials. Budgetary analysis and options were provided by TischlerBise and Kinder Institute researchers. The study also included best practice research on test case options from across the country that could be pursued locally.

The report was funded by Houston Endowment and the Kinder Foundation. It is available online at 

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.