By Gilbert Hoffman
ALDINE – Residents of the Aldine area gathered at the East Aldine District building last Saturday, after the Summer Fair event, to hear Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez update the community on efforts underway to reduce gun violence and other types of crimes.
Billed as a meeting to discuss Public Safety, Garcia went into a lengthy dissertation on what that term actually means, and what investment the County has made to reduce crime and increase safety. His main point was that to achieve improvement in Public Safety, you have to view three components: Cops, Courts, and Community. He then detailed actions that the county and his precinct have taken to improve safety in each category.
Garcia started with a video about ShotSpotter, a new technology that allows the Sheriff’s deputies to locate gunfire precisely, and know what type of gun has been set off. Shotspotter is a trial program, for 3 years, costing the Precinct about $780,000. The Sheriff said the program has been very effective, and in the first year resulted in about 55 arrests and 44 guns removed from the streets.
Garcia also discussed the increase in funding for various police departments in the county, including raises for deputies in the Sheriff and Constable offices. There has also been funding approved for special crime fighting programs, including $3 million overtime for warrant backlog, $15 million for body cameras, $2.6 million especially for hot spot patrols, and a new program called VIPER to target warrants for violent offenders.
Another aspect of Public Safety has been the Courts, and a backlog caused by Hurricane Harvey that the county is still resolving. Garcia said that they have approved $13.8 million in new funding for additional courts, new judges, and to move jury trials.
The county has also allocated more money for the District Attorney, $12.7 million for new prosecutors, a new environmental unit, and pay raises. Garcia said there is currently a backlog of 33,000 cases.
The county has also revised the rules on releases on bail, now requiring at least 10% to be paid in advance for most crimes. This had been 1% for some, letting criminals return quickly to the street.
Sheriff Gonzalez spoke in more detail on the ShotSpotter program, stating that there were two locations in Aldine being watched under the program, and that they has been very effective. There are an area around the East Aldine Town Center, and another area close to Keith Wiess Park. Gonzalez said that he would like to see the program expanded to cover more area. He pointed out that when a call is generated by ShotSpotter, that deputies treat it as the highest Priority One. He said the technology is so effective that deputies arriving on the scene can know where that shots were fire, from what type of gun, and what type of gunfire.
Gonzalez said that “we don’t want to see guns in our community, it is unacceptable. When a gun is fired, someone gets hurt or property is damaged.”
Gonzalez discussed other new programs in his department, including a Pro-active squad and a community involvement team. These act before a serious crime occurs, he said.
Garcia spoke about other types of activities that affect Public Safety, not just Cops and Courts. He said the Community is an important component, and that the county funds many activities that contribute to Public Safety.
One effort he cited was mental health, with $27.1 million for deterrence, treatment, and other initiatives in this category. There has also been new funding for violence deterrence, Holistic Response Teams, nuisance abatement, and domestic violence intervention.
Other community programs from the county include youth programs, early childhood programs, parks, after-school activities, and workforce development. Garcia’s point is that all of these are part of the bigger picture of crime reduction and public safety.
Even sidewalks, and roadway design can be factors in increasing safety and reducing incidents, he said.
A Question and Answer period followed the talks. Subjects that were asked about included a swimming pool for seniors and disabled (Garcia said too expensive now), more ShotSpotter locations, cleaning ditches, expanding the police academy, and improving Aldine Westfield Road.
Connie Esparza said, “This was an important meeting for the safety of our children.” She asked the commissioner to continue these update sessions on a regular basis.
Garcia said his philosophy for the Precinct is “Revive2Thrive” and that for too long Aldine has been forgotten. He said that Precinct 2 has spent $100 million since he took office to improve the quality of life and county services for the Aldine area.