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Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputy League

A whiter shade of male

Sheriffing is a man’s job, ladies. I’m sure you understand that.

Ron Hickman

One month into his job as Harris County sheriff, Ron Hickman has filled his roster of top commanders, a new hierarchy marked by one omission: There are no women.

Hickman picked 19 men and also scrapped the role of a liaison for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates and residents, part of a broad-reaching civil rights initiative established by his Democratic predecessor.

When Hickman, a Republican, assumed the helm, he said, “Diversity for diversity’s sake is not always effective.” In a recent statement, Hickman defended his final team for its vast education, experience and devotion to police work.

The lack of women in leadership roles is worth noting because representation in the top ranks promotes a message about equity, provides role models and boosts morale, said Danielle Flanagan, an instructor of criminal justice at West Texas A&M University who studied women in policing in the Texas panhandle.


At that point, J.M. “Smokie” Phillips Jr., the president of the Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputy League, said his members were concerned about returning to a previous period of racism and disparity in treatment. Johnny Mata, the presiding officer for the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, said diversity in law enforcement command in an area as diverse as Harris County demonstrates the sensitivity of the officeholder to serve the community as a whole.

The complete command lineup Hickman unveiled Friday comprises three black men, two Hispanic men and 14 white men – two of whom were brought back from retirement.

The Houston Police Department command, by comparison, has two black females, two black males, two Asian-American males, one Hispanic female, two Hispanic males, one white female and eight white males, said department spokesman Victor Senties.

The sheriff emphasized that his administration collectively possesses 620 years of law enforcement experience, 13 post-graduate degrees, six diplomas from the FBI National Academy, 87 professional certifications, 46 memberships to professional law enforcement and community associations. He noted in a press statement that expertise, qualifications, passion and experience were his top priorities in selecting commanders.

See here and here for some background. Another way of looking at 620 years of experience among 19 people is to note that their average age must therefore be in the mid-fifties. Clearly, diversity in age range isn’t much of a priority, either. Be all that as it may, I’d like to thank Sheriff Hickman for so effectively clarifying what the 2016 election will be about. Do you want the same old thing being done by the same old people as it always has been done, or do you want to live in the 21st century? The choice will be yours. Campos has more.

Questioning the new Sheriff’s staff

That didn’t take long.

Ron Hickman

Among Ron Hickman’s initial moves as sheriff was filling each of his first eight command posts with white males, a choice critics said shows a lack of vision in a jurisdiction as diverse as Harris County.

These employees range from a major in charge of criminal investigations to an assistant chief who oversees the jail.

Hickman called it insulting to question whether race or gender were considerations in his early staffing assignments.

“I’m still researching the top-level personnel. Given that I haven’t finished assembling it,” he said, “I think it would be unfair for me to say anything.”

However, Adrian Garcia, the county’s first Latino sheriff, called it “unconscionable” that all those on Hickman’s command staff to date are white and male. Garcia resigned to run for mayor of Houston.

Some rumblings of discontent also have begun among the rank and file.

“A lot of African-American deputies have approached me … asking me to say something about this. We are going back to the days of (Sheriff) Tommy Thomas,” said J.M. “Smokie” Phillips Jr., president of the Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputy League. “They are expressing concern that we are going backwards to the old days of racism, the good old boys’ system, discriminatory practices and disparity in treatment.”

Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, which endorsed Hickman’s appointment, said, “I think the choices are being made more based on ability than based on what race or gender (the individuals) are. It’s detrimental to an organization when you make your decisions based on race or gender.”

The president of the Mexican American Sheriffs Organization, Marty Rocha, declined to weigh in until Hickman completes his assignments.

“We’re going to have to give him the opportunity to set up his command,” Rocha said. “We’re going to wait until he finishes. … It’s not a done deal, and he’s still moving folks back and forth.”

Let’s stipulate up front that the new guy gets to put in his people. That’s expected and understood. Garcia’s people had to know this was coming, and Campos is correct that none of this happens if he had stayed put. And he still has some slots to fill, so this isn’t the end of the story. But come on, you can’t have an all-white-guy command staff at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in 2015. Anyone who claims that the best-qualified candidates in every case so far just happen to be white guys is not in touch with reality. I mean, we all know this, right? Give Sheriff Hickman the benefit of the doubt for now, but let’s keep an eye on this. In the meantime, I agree with Stace: It would be nice to have a Democratic candidate or two announce their intention to run. This is the marquee race now, let’s get it going.