County hires jailers to save money

Harris County Commissioners Court has finally admitted that having an adequate number of jailers is more cost-effective than paying for scads of overtime. Just as Sheriff Garcia has been saying all along.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s payroll was a contentious issue last year. More than once, Garcia asked permission to add employees, saying shortages exacerbated by the county’s hiring freeze were driving the department’s $21 million overtime bill for the fiscal year that ended Feb. 28.

Court members sidestepped many of those requests and criticized Garcia for seeking the hires and for other perceived missteps.

The tone has changed considerably since the county adopted its leanest budget in years March 8.

“They were just being eaten alive by the overtime, and they need to fill those positions,” County Judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday. “This is the first step.”

The next step, which really should have been the first step, should be to finally do some of those things we’ve been talking about forever to reduce the jail population so that fewer jailers are needed in the long term. Anybody know what Caprice Cosper is doing these days? Be that as it may, my next step will be to apply a little mockery where it’s needed:

Commissioner Steve Radack, a frequent Garcia critic, supported the move.

“Court is trying to work to solve some of the budgetary problems of the sheriff’s department, and I think the court is willing to cooperate with elected officials who want to cooperate with the court,” Radack said. “That cooperation will affect the bottom line when it comes to … saving taxpayers’ money.”

Mm hmm, just like the Sheriff said it would. Am I the only one who is reminded of this?

Of course, the only thing that Steve Radack and Arthur Fonzarelli have in common is that they both jumped the shark. But you get the idea. A statement from Sheriff Garcia, who unlike me chose to take the high road, is beneath the fold.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia saluted members of Commissioners Court today for adding desperately needed detention officers and nurses to his staff, creating a chain of events that will save taxpayers money and improve working conditions in the nation’s third largest jail.

“When a crisis hits Harris County government, Harris County government pulls together and responds effectively, whether the crisis is a hurricane or the current economic turmoil that has caused all branches of government to take a new look a how they do business,” Sheriff Garcia said.

“I applaud and thank the county judge and the county commissioners for working together to find solutions for law enforcement and for the taxpayers,” the sheriff added.

The court voted today to allow Sheriff Garcia to hire part-time civilian jail staff members, including deputies from constable’s offices that had been forced by a decline in county tax revenues to lay off employees. Some current part-time detention officers will be allowed to switch to full time.

A 20-month hiring freeze imposed by Commissioners Court had forced the sheriff to pay millions of dollars more in overtime to his full-time employees to maintain state-required staffing levels in the jail. In April, the sheriff told Commissioners Court the county was wasting $5 million a year because of the overtime load.

More recently Sheriff Garcia identified an additional $3 million in the waste of taxpayers’ money because he had been forced to hire jail nurses through contact agencies rather than directly. Today Commissioners Court voted to allow the sheriff to directly hire an initial batch of nurses.. Nurses provide care for some of the 9,700 or so inmates in the jail system as required by law.

“Having more detention officers means my existing jail staff of deputies and civilians won’t have to work as much overtime. Burn-out and fatigue will become less of a problem for these employees, who do a very hard job out of sight of the law-abiding public,” Sheriff Garcia said.

“Having nurses answering directly to my jail medical staff means we can do an even better job of providing efficient, quality care for inmates, which the law requires us to do,” he added.

The sheriff thanked County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office, the county auditor’s office, constables and the county Management Services department for working on the employment solutions.

Sheriff Garcia and staff saved the county more than $10 million in the fiscal year that ended March 1 thanks to a variety of business-oriented changes. For the first time in at least a decade, spending by the sheriff’s office declined from the previous year.

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