Trust Index: Is Harris County defunding the police?

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – Earlier this week, Governor Greg Abbott claimed in a widely circulated news release that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and others in the county administration were engaging in what amounted to illegally defunding Harris County’s various policing agencies.

“The dangerous actions taken by Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County represent a brazen disregard for the safety and security of the Texans they are sworn to protect,” Governor Abbott said.

The issue is split along party lines.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has not minced words regarding the issue.

“We have increased the budget for every single law enforcement agency, so it is a lie: defunding,” Hidalgo exclaimed during an Aug. 17 news conference.

In a sense, they’re both right.

Strictly interpreted, Abbott’s claim is true, funds that were in place have been removed, i.e. defunding.

Harris County has changed a policy that once allowed law enforcement agencies, operated by the county government, to keep leftover funds. Now those unspent funds must be returned to the county.

State Comptroller, points out that, in total, it amounts to about $3,000,000 in the debit column for those police agencies, on the whole.

The State Comptroller has opened an investigation into the matter because a new law in place (SB23) mandates that any defunding of police organizations in the State of Texas must be put to a public vote.

But the issue is more complicated than that because as Hidalgo pointed out budgets have increased for Harris County law enforcement entities, including Constable’s offices, and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

“In the last budget cycle we gave law enforcement only 18% of what they asked for,” Commissioner Tom Ramsey recently pointed out.

But, splitting hairs, that is underfunding, not defunding, because the year-to-year budgets have increased, even if still lackluster.

The Governor’s claim of “defunding of Harris County law enforcement” is a “Yellow” on our trust index.