Criminal Justice

Boost to law enforcement budgets would lead to more than 1,000 Harris County layoffs, an analysis shows

Commissioner Jack Cagle’s proposal would roll the budget back to 2018 funding priorities, and lead to 1,140 job losses, according to an analysis from the Harris County Office of Management and Budget.

Harris County Sheriff's Deputy
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
A Harris County sheriff’s deputy outside a YES Prep charter school campus in southwest Houston on Oct. 1, 2021, where law enforcement responded to a possible active shooter.

A request from Republican Harris County commissioners to funnel taxpayer dollars from county agencies to law enforcement budgets would lead to more than 1,000 layoffs in county government, according to a budget analysis obtained by Houston Public Media on Monday.

Commissioners Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle both proposed alternative 2022 budgets to direct more money toward law enforcement that would require steep cuts to many other departments of county government. Each proposal would provide significant increases in funding to the Sheriff's patrol division relative to the proposal by the Office of Management and Budget, while Cagle's would also provide a substantial increase to the detention division and fund 82 new prosecutors for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

But an internal analysis from OMB — provided by a source in county government — found that the money to fund those increases would come from across-the-board cuts to other departments, including the county health department, the Institute of Forensic Sciences, the Public Defender's Office, and the Elections Administrator.

The analysis found Cagle’s proposal would lead to 1,140 job losses, and Ramsey's proposal would cost 1,120 county jobs.

In an interview, Cagle said his budget proposal would fund basic services he believed taxpayers expected government to provide and that he modeled the proposal off of the 2018 budget, adjusted for the growing tax base in the years since.

He added that the loss of those jobs would be roughly equal to the jobs gained in law enforcement, though he acknowledged that many employees would be “released back into the private sector.”

“It's very difficult to figure out where the money is going, where it's being spent,” Cagle said. “We know that there are things in (the budget) that may be good things, but that I don't necessarily feel are what the taxpayers want to be done out of county government.”

In a statement, Ramsey pushed back on analysis that suggests his budget proposal would lead to job cuts outside of law enforcement. He added that it fills all requests from the sheriff, constables, DA and fire marshal's office, and adds 200 law enforcement personnel, including 275 patrol officers.

“Here are the facts. The budget currently proposed by the County Administrator only funds 18% of law enforcement needs,” he wrote. “This is irresponsible and unacceptable during a crime pandemic. We had over 600 homicides last year alone. That's over 600 families who suffered because their loved one was taken from them.”

In a press conference Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo pointed out that the Office of Management and Budget proposal already includes $1.4 billion for justice and safety programs, including 400 new vehicles for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and county constables, as well as an entry level salary increase in the DA’s office to $87,000 a year and 35 more positions in the sheriff’s criminal investigations bureau.

The budget also lists funding for policing alternatives, including alternative responders for routine mental health calls and a $50 million dollar program that focuses on removing abandoned buildings and making quality of life improvements in areas experiencing high crime.

Hidalgo called it an “all of the above approach,” and pushed back against returning to previous budget ideas to address a rise in violent crime that has been seen across the country.

“Decades of failed criminal justice policies have wasted billions of dollars,” Hidalgo said, “while failing to address the root causes of crime.”

Commissioners are set to vote on the 2022 budget Tuesday.