Harris County's sheriff's deputy unions are expected today to endorse a challenger in the sheriff's race -- an unprecedented move that union leaders say reflects a long-standing dissatisfaction with incumbent Tommy Thomas.
The three unions, which together represent the majority of deputies, plan to endorse Houston Councilman Adrian Garcia over Thomas in the November election.
The announcement is the latest blow against the beleaguered Republican sheriff, whose policies have come under fire by his own deputies and whose jail is under scrutiny by federal investigators.
"It's basically the lack of the current administration's willingness to work with us, inconsistency in policies and fair treatment of personnel," said Richard Newby, head of the largest of the three unions. "This is something that's been building for a while."
Deputies have complained about understaffing that has stretched patrols thin and required them to work overtime. They've said the department's contract deputy program -- which allows civic associations and municipal utility districts to subsidize deputy salaries in exchange for increased patrols -- has created bare spots in patrol coverage and left dozens of unsubsidized patrol positions unfilled.
The sheriff defended his tenure, saying he was unfazed by the unions' endorsement of his opponent.
"It appears they're across the board endorsing Democrats in the races," he said.
The sheriff said he did not believe the contract deputy issue influenced the unions' decision.
"Bear in mind that the decision to endorse in these races is made by a handful of people," he said. "It's not made by all the members of the union."
This is the first time the unions have come together to support a challenger for the sheriff's post, Newby said. When polled, union members said they favored Garcia 3-to-1, he said.
UPDATE: I have press releases from the Garcia campaign and from the three unions beneath the fold.
Adrian Garcia Accepts the Endorsement of Harris County Deputies Unions Speaking across the ship channel from the building site of the first new U.S. oil refinery in a generation, Garcia recalled, "Back when I was working the streets, law enforcement was all about busting criminals, and making arrests. Today, there is a whole new world of complex challenges that Law Enforcement has to face. Public safety in Harris County is also about protecting our vital infrastructure. We are the energy capitol of the world. One third of our nation's economy flows through this region and it is the Harris County Sheriff's deputies that are the first line of defense against a major disruption." "I am honored to accept these endorsements. They represent the will of the rank and file officers in the department. The unity expressed here today is what we will need to face the challenges of reforming this office. Our hardworking deputies have my commitment that we will work together to make this organization a 21st century law enforcement agency," said Garcia upon accepting the groups' endorsements. The announcement was made in front of major area businesses located along the Houston Ship Channel and Port of Houston to underscore Garcia's commitment to protecting vital economic infrastructure. The Garcia campaign has raised issues regarding county-wide Homeland Security and emergency preparedness. "Any major occurrence could potentially cripple businesses throughout the United States. We need a Sheriff who appreciates that fact and is out in front leading on security issues". The Mayor Pro-Tem and Chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee also went on to add, "People often forget just how important the Sheriff's Office and its deputies are to Harris County. They are the ones who protect our lives, our homes and our livelihoods. We need the strength and support of all our law enforcement officers to keep our communities safe." Garcia served as a Houston Police Officer for 23 years before joining the Houston City Council in 2003.
Harris County Deputy Organizations Endorse Adrian Garcia for Sheriff
In a historic announcement, the leadership of the Harris County Deputies Organization, Mexican American Sheriff's Organization, and the African-American Sheriff's Deputy League acknowledged that this is the first time they have unanimously supported a challenger over the incumbent. The occasion also marked the first the time that such significant groups have coalesced around a single figure. All three major organizations announced their endorsements of Houston City Council Member Adrian Garcia to become the next Sheriff of Harris County.
"For the first time in the History of our organization we have parted from the tradition of supporting the incumbent Sheriff. The men and women of the Harris County Deputies' Organization have spoken and they desire a new brand of leadership. We are repudiating the policy failures of the current administration" stated Richard Newby, President of the Harris County Deputies Organization. "As the highest elected law enforcement official in the region, the next Sheriff will have a huge task ahead of him. We believe Adrian can re-establish this Office as the finest law enforcement agency in Texas."
Newby went on to say Adrian Garcia will take the lead in ensuring Sheriff's Deputies are prepared to protect the County's citizens and critical infrastructure, such as the chemical plants and oil refineries located along Houston's Ship Channel.
President of the Mexican American Sheriff's Organization (MASO), Alberto Rivera echoed Newby's remarks, adding that Garcia's 23 years of law enforcement experience make him an ideal candidate for Sheriff.
"Adrian Garcia understands our urgent need for change in the Harris County Sheriff's office. The members desire leadership that is visible, transparent, fair and effective. Adrian Garcia has made a commitment to formulate a comprehensive public safety model which the members feel is a positive step in the right direction," Rivera said.
J.M. "Smokie" Phillips, Jr., President of the African-American Sheriff's Deputy League said his group's endorsement comes in the wake of turbulent times and continued disparate treatment of personnel within the Sheriff's Office.
"We've decided to endorse Adrian Garcia because we need a Sheriff who can bring good law enforcement to all communities and work together to keep Harris County safe and make our members proud to serve alongside him," said Phillips." Adrian would be an inclusive and open-door Sheriff for Harris County. We need a Sheriff who will serve all. Adrian Garcia can help break the barriers the League has consistently chronicled."
Phillips went on to add, "We believe Mr. Garcia has adopted a law enforcement platform which will expand, unify, direct and inspire the Sheriff's Office and fulfill the law enforcement mission in all communities throughout Harris County and bring change to the Sheriff's Office the people of Harris County can believe in."
Lee Bumper, Vice President of the African American Sheriff's Deputy League was very impressed with Adrian's long range plan and his keen insight into the challenges the department faces. "I have seen our Office go thru many changes in my 18 years and Adrian has a great plan for the future of the Sheriff's Office. This joint endorsement is historical because this is the first time the three groups have stood together for one candidate. We are very excited and pleased to be a part of this historical event.
The Harris County Deputies Organization is dedicated to providing support services for its members and improving the safety and welfare of the citizens of Harris County Texas.
The African American Sheriff's Deputy League is dedicated to affording members with legal assistance in Sheriff's Office policies and ethics, grievances and standard operating procedures. The AASDL affords members a way to establish positive relations with all communities. It is one of the largest African American employee groups in Harris County, providing 25 years of service to its members.