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Overview of the Harris County Sheriff race

The Chron takes a good look at the race for Sheriff.

Sheriff Ron Hickman

Sheriff Ron Hickman

Policing Texas’ most populous county is just one item on a laundry list of challenges facing Harris County’s next sheriff.

Voters next month will choose between the appointed Republican sheriff, Ron Hickman, a career cop who formerly served as Precinct 4 Constable, and Democratic challenger Ed Gonzalez, a 47-year-old former homicide investigator-turned Houston city council member.

Whoever prevails will have to contend with the realities of fighting crime in Harris County’s rapidly developing unincorporated areas and running an expensive, overcrowded jail frequently referred to as the largest mental health facility in Texas.

All of that is set against a backdrop of heightened tension between civil rights activists and police over the use of fatal force against civilians and the murders of peace officers in high-profile incidents in Dallas, Baton Rouge and northwest Harris County.

After party affiliation, the race is expected to boil down to the differing philosophies of Hickman and Gonzalez.

Hickman, a traditional law-and-order Republican with a passion for fighting crime with technology, touts his executive experience and his efforts to modernize the sheriff’s office.

“I’ve dealt with hard choices and decisions, in law enforcement,” said the 65-year-old incumbent. “I never left law enforcement to be a politician.”

Since assuming the sheriff’s office in May 2015, Hickman has re-opened the county’s outlying jails, created a homeless outreach team, privatized the jail’s commissary and established a high-tech crime unit to investigate child exploitation, internet fraud and identity theft cases, and rolled out the department’s Real-Time Crime Center, which tracks information as officers respond to incidents. The department also has installed cameras throughout the jail and created a dedicated DWI task force, he said.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

A self-styled progressive, Gonzalez touts a reform-driven platform that he hopes voters will embrace. He has pledged to root out cronyism and corruption in the department, improve relationships between the sheriff’s office and Harris County residents, increase collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and push for systematic changes to Harris County’s criminal justice system.

“You have to lead comprehensively. And my No. 1 priority is to keep you safe, and that’s not happening,” said Gonzalez, who worked as a homicide investigator, hostage negotiator and chairman of Houston City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “(Hickman’s) experience has only brought us a lack of crime-fighting resources, budget deficit and a trail of scandal.”

[…]

A recent University of Houston poll found Hickman and Gonzalez tied, with 32 percent support each from registered voters with 36 percent of voters still undecided.

“The candidates are heavily tied to the performance of the national ticket,” said Richard Murray, professor of political science at UH. “If your guy is losing at the top, or lady, you’re sunk, in my view.”

When pollsters narrowed the field to “extremely likely voters,” Hickman pulled to a 36-30 advantage, but Gonzalez appears to be gaining momentum and likely would benefit from straight ticket voters, poll watchers said.

“My advice to these candidates – and I’ve talked to a few – is prayer,” [Rice poli sci professor Mark] Jones quipped. “It doesn’t cost anything and it might work. Because you can’t fundamentally change the dynamics of the presidential race.”

You know how I feel about that poll. Profs Murray and Jones have it right, in my opinion, though past races have shown that there is room for crossover voting in this race if one candidate or the other has enough baggage. This race hasn’t been quite as high profile as the DA race, and I don’t know how much the Constable Precinct 4 scandal has touched Hickman. In any event, this is a good overview, with some information I hadn’t known – I had no idea Sheriff Hickman’s wife worked as a JP in Navarro County, for example. So go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

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