By Christine Nguyen
With former Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia out of the picture and facing federal corruption charges, candidates Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will square off in the upcoming primary run-off with the task of restoring integrity to the office if elected in November.
After a close race in the May primary election, both candidates are gearing up for an even closer run-off election which will take place July 31. The May primary saw six democratic candidates compete to face the only Republican candidate, Joe Danna, in the November general election.
Vara-Leija received 23.78 percent of the total with 3,512 votes, trailing Rosen who received 27.96 percent of the total with 4,130 votes.
“This is an election that’s going to be decided on very few votes probably less than a hundred,” Vara-Leija said.
While the candidates have their unique priorities, both expressed a paramount need to bring integrity and accountability to the
Constables office with ethics training for the entire staff, and a similar need to end the culture of pressure and intimidation that ran rampant under the Abercia era.
Rosen and Vara-Leija have gathered strong endorsements for the position with Vara-Leija gaining support from the Houston Chronicle among others, and Rosen from three of the four other Precinct 1 Constable candidates among others.
Rosen has 21 years of law enforcement experience and is currently a major and commander of the Special Operations Bureau in the Harris County Sheriffs Office. Out of those 21 years, Rosen has spent 12 years working in the Constables office, with four of those years spent in Precinct 1.
He has a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Houston.
“Ive served in every capacity of law enforcement that you can, with the exception of homicide,” Rosen said. “I’m the only candidate in the race that has patrol experience. Im the only candidate in the race that has a college degree.”
If elected, Rosen said one of his main focuses will be implementing a “stringent code of ethics” and providing training in multiple areas for the entire staff.
“For instance, in the mental health warrant division, theres no requirement in the constable’s office presently that they have crisis intervention training,” Rosen said. “[Training] would be a prerequisite for going to work in the mental warrant division under my leadership.”
Rosen said he plans to hold a public forum every quarter and send out newsletters to encourage transparency within the Constable’s office. His other areas plans include integrating the Houston Police Department and Constable’s office radio systems and bringing the Constables office up to date technologically.
To deal with budget constraints, Rosen said he will recruiting and utilizing peace officers to expand the workforce and increase law-enforcement presence at zero cost.
Rosen himself has drawn criticism himself for not explicitly disclosing that he works as a reserve officer and that he has spent the majority of his career as a reserve, although Rosen said this is only indicative of his dedication.
“I think that says Im the most committed person to doing this practice,” Rosen said. “In criminal warrants, under my leadership, they went up 184 percent. We have an 84 percent capture rate in the child predator apprehension team. These are things I’ve done and I’m not getting paid for it.”
According to the HCSO website, reserve deputies are part-time officers who “have the same training, legal authority and responsibilities as full-time HCSO deputies, except that they volunteer their services and are not monetarily compensated.”
As an “outsider,” as he refers to himself, Rosen said he will use his experience at the Sheriffs office to “bring fresh ideas” to the Constable’s office.
Vara-Leija said one of her main priorities if elected Constable would be to reassess and restructure the department to see where employees fit the best need, particularly in light of tighter budgets.
“We have to look at the department from the top to the bottom to see where our resources are going,” Vara-Leija said. “That’s exactly why I need to go back because I know exactly who does what and how they do it and where they best fit.”
Having worked in the Constables office for more than 28 years, Vara-Leija emphasized her experience as vital to the role of Constable. Vara-Leija, who is currently retired, started as a deputy in Precinct 1 before becoming a sergeant, and later being promoted to Captain.
“I have been a full-time professional since I first completed the Sheriffs academy in the late 70s,” Vara-Leija said. “I worked as a deputy in the mental warrant division. I worked in the juvenile division. I worked criminal warrants. I worked civil warrants… There will be no learning curve for me.”
Her other points of focus would include creating a citizen’s advisory council to bolster communication between the community and the Constables office, increasing collaboration between different law enforcement agencies, and hiring more diverse, qualified employees to reflect the Precinct 1 population.
Although her tenure under Abercia has drawn criticism from weary voters, Vara-Leija, who retired months before Abercia stepped down, said she was never privy to any of the conversations revolving the alleged abuses under the former Constable.
Her experience as an “insider” in the Constables office has gained her support. According to the Houston Chronicle endorsement, “Vara-Leija, in particular, has been on the inside, and understands the urgency of changing this system.”
“I’ve seen the way it was done in the past, knowing that is wasnt right, but as just a sergeant, or a captain or deputy, my voice didnt carry,” she said. “But [as Constable] I would be in a position to change things, to make it a premiere law enforcement agency.”
Early voting begins on Monday, July 23.
For more information on the candidates’ campaigns, check out their websites at:
www.alanrosen.org and www.cindyvaraleijaforconstable.com.