Why Do we Need Constables?
Many residents wonder how the Constable Program was chosen for added security in CP. Former Civic Club President (2014, 2015) and Security Coordinator (2016) Heidi Skiff talks about why the program was implemented and what it has done for the neighborhood. Constable Patrol….Is It Worth It?
By Heidi Skiff (Edited from Nextdoor)
2016 Security Coordinator & 2014, 2015 President
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion around our constable patrol program so as the security coordinator, I’d like to take a moment to give the neighborhood some of the key information you’re seeking in order to reduce the confusion and clarify some misconceptions.
I’ve served on the Civic Club for over 9 years and during that time, security had always been an on-going concern and discussion point for the board. Over the years, the board investigated many options including security cameras, trying to close off certain entrances to the neighborhood and private security patrol. All of these came with significant pitfalls and none of them seemed to be the answer to our concerns.
So, when Constable Alan Rosen came to us asking to present a plan where we could team up with SPP to have his deputies patrol, we were anxious to hear his plan. The plan involved our two neighborhoods (SPP/CP) coming together as one contract patrol zone of about 1000 homes in order to afford two deputies (one day shift, one night shift) patrolling on an 80/20 schedule. This means that at least 80% of the deputies’ time is spent in the contract and up to 20% of their time could be spent making calls outside the contract, but this is done on an as needed basis and rarely amounts to a full 20% of the time spent outside of the contract. With the 80/20 set up, the constable’s office picks up 20% of the total cost though so it’s a big win for SPP/CP, allowing us to have 2 deputies!
What do these deputies do that HPD can’t? We have 80 hours of dedicated patrol each week. Some of the concerns residents have submitted include speeding, cut-through traffic and folks running stop signs. Our deputies have responded by stopping folks who are speeding and running stop signs. Ironically, the majority of folks stopped with these infractions are residents. Our deputies are well aware that we pay their salary, so they’ve adopted a policy of educate and release which means giving residents a warning about slowing down and making complete stops. We then get complaints from residents that they are inconvenienced by said stops. So you can imagine from mine and the deputies stand point the catch-22 this makes: Residents don’t want people to speed or run stop signs, but they don’t want to be pulled over for speeding/running stop signs. The warning system for residents is a good solution to this conundrum. If you get pulled over, be polite, stay in your car and don’t rifle through your pockets when the deputy comes to your window. All our deputy’s stops are audio and video recorded so if there is ever a question as to the nature of his stop, it’s very easy to check the video and get to the real story. If you have a concern about an interaction with the deputy, please call the office and make a report.
Let’s talk about “real crime” and cut through traffic. Since our new night shift deputy has started in late Nov. 2015, he has stopped countless vehicles cutting through the neighborhood at night. These stops have led to arrests for several reasons including open warrants, possession of crack cocaine, marijuana, ecstacy and/or other pills, unlawfully carrying a pistol and DWI’s to name a few. Because of his tenacity, our cut-through traffic in the night has dwindled significantly since November and we are having significantly less drugs, weapons and criminals coming into our neighborhood. Do you remember the stream of window vandalism that was occurring in Oak Forest? These teenage boys came into our neighborhood one night with their BB guns and baseball bats, but were apprehended by our deputy before they shot out any windows!
Our night deputy isn’t just looking for external criminals, he’s also looking to help out our residents. There have been several incidents of him closing/locking a car door that was left open. Additionally, he busted up a house party of a bunch of 16-18 year olds that involved marijuana and drinking. The grateful parents were notified by our deputy as they were out of town when it happened but so glad our deputy was an extra set of eyes while they were away.
Now, let’s talk about theft. Overall, we enjoy a low incident of burglaries but even so, things still happen on occasion. Our deputies are relentless in pursuing thieves and recouping our stolen goods. In the past year, we’ve had a handful of burglaries involving items like a child’s bike, a generator, tools, etc. Not only have our deputies apprehended the thieves, but they’ve gone above and beyond by seeking out the stolen items at local pawn shops. Once they find the items, they seize them and return them to the owners. I can tell you that HPD will never hunt down a child’s bike and take it back to the owner. HPD is understaffed and they can’t concern themselves with “minor” things like bikes and tools. But our deputies can and want to continually go above and beyond to serve our community.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention all that our deputy did for us following the destruction of our entrances. Back in 2014 we remodeled our neighborhood entrances for the first time since their construction in the 1960’s. This was a large-scale project that was voted on at a general meeting and cost the civic club about $20,000. Within less than a year of the remodel, one entrance at Golf was knocked over by a COH sanitation truck and our main entrance was plowed through by a drunk driver who fled the scene. When HPD arrived on the scene, he wrote up the incident as an “abandoned vehicle” and when I expressed to him my angst because we’d just spent all that money remodeling the officer shrugged his shoulders and said, “well, you’d better go get more money from your residents so you can rebuild”. That answer was not only insufficient, it was insulting to all of us who contributed to the project over the years. So, I took photos and collected as much data as I could and called HPD, only to get a run around. So, I called our deputy. He was able to use his contacts with HPD’s hit and run division and passed on all the data/evidence I collected. Because of him, HPD’s hit & run division took over the case and pursued the driver. We were able to recoup 100% of the money from the driver’s insurance to do our repairs! Additionally, our deputy called COH who had been giving me the run around for nearly 9 months about the column at Golf that their sanitation truck knocked down. COH quickly remitted a check for those damages as well. Is your $250/year worth it? Without our deputy we’d be looking at a dilapidated, broken entrance and a huge bill we couldn’t afford.
I haven’t even mentioned all the ancillary services Harris County Constable’s Office offers to their contracted areas such as vacation watch and home security response. But you can look all that up on their website (http://www.pct1constable.net/).
When the Civic Club was entertaining the idea of contracting for deputy patrol, we held several “well-attended” meetings to discuss the program, answer questions, etc. I’m defining a well-attended meeting as one with greater than 50 residents in attendance. A little quick math will tell you that even our “well-attended” meetings don’t have the majority of residents present, so I hope this post clarifies for everyone what the constable patrol has done for us so far! I also hope you will consider joining the program, knowing it’s $250/year well spent.
Prevent Thieves With These Simple Tips
1. Keep track of serial numbers! Take a photo. Items can be recovered at the pawn shop since all pawn shops have to register the make, model & serial number of all goods they take in and our deputies can track this registry.
2. Lock doors! Criminals look for easy opportunities.
3. Report any burglaries to our constable dispatch as they will continue to track down your items and the thieves.
Keep the Constable Dispatch number handy in case you are ever in need: