Image: Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson opposes incorporation of The Woodlands as a city government, because he doesn’t want to replace one of the best examples of community policing – directly elected by the voters – in the United States with the “unknown” of a city police department beholden to a city manager.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
The Woodlands, October 28 – The core function of any local government is law enforcement. Under the current circumstances, the Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson and the Precinct 3 Montgomery County Constable Ryan Gable work directly for the residents of The Woodlands who elect them to office. Incorporation as a city government would replace that core function with a city police department, which would look to a city manager, who would look to a city council, who might at times look to the residents of The Woodlands for policy decisions.
In other words, law enforcement now works directly for Woodlands residents, while, under a city government, there would be at least two levels of bureaucracy between the Woodlands City Police Chief and the residents. Responsiveness to community concerns would decline substantially, as it does in every municipal police department, as Montgomery County Sheriff Henderson explained in an exclusive interview with The Golden Hammer yesterday.
Henderson noted that the important examples of that phenomenon in the failures across America of municipal police departments during the “social justice” movement during 2020. Oftentimes, city police departments were unable to quell riots and other criminal disturbances, so county sheriffs had to act swiftly and come into those communities to provide protection from riots that the municipal authorities were unable to control. At a recent national policing conference, Henderson explained, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva noted that sheriff’s offices generally have the ability to respond to emergency situations more swiftly than do municipal police departments precisely because voters usually select sheriffs directly, while police chiefs must wade through city bureaucracies before responding to serious situation. Villanueva’s County Sheriff’s Office had to shut down the riots, because the Los Angeles Police Department couldn’t wade through the municipal system and respond quickly enough.
“The Woodlands will give up the best example of community policing in the United States, if they opt for incorporation in the November 2 referendum,” Henderson said. “They’ll replace it with an unknown.”
Henderson has asked the question, “Why now? There’s a moratorium on annexation of The Woodlands for many years.” He said, “It seems rushed. It doesn’t make sense to put the election on a de minimis election day with just a few constitutional amendments on the ballot. It looks like a school bond where they call the election for a time when there will be little opposition coming to the polls.”
The Sheriff explained that the history of community policing in The Woodlands suggests that incorporation as a city government would likely reduce the quality of law enforcement. “What you’re seeing in The Woodlands is community policing done right. The law enforcement officers are accountable to the public, so we’re in constant dialogue with the people whom we serve. We do community policing so well in the community that I’m now trying to expand that model to the rest of Montgomery County with the same proactive patrols and community activities.”
“I feel that this community in The Woodlands is more closely attached to its law enforcement elected officials as opposed to a police chief,” Henderson said.
Currently there is a Sheriff’s Captain, Tim Holifield, the former elected Constable from The Woodlands, two lieutenants, thirteen sergeants, several detectives, and ninety-two (92) patrol deputies assigned to The Woodlands under the contract between the Woodlands Township and Montgomery County. All of the deputies are patrol deputies although a few of them are also crime prevention specialists.
Under the Transition Agreement between the County government and a city of The Woodlands, there would be a five-year phaseout of the Sheriff’s Office’s law enforcement participation in The Woodlands.
At the beginning, by law, The Woodlands would have a City Marshal who would have authority over ordinance enforcement, traffic enforcement, and crime on the Harris County side of The Woodlands Township. Henderson has expressed serious reservations about how that system would work.
If The Woodlands votes to incorporate, it appears likely that law enforcement in The Woodlands will move from a focus on crime prevention and control to a focus, under a city government, of collecting fees, fines, and forfeitures through traffic tickets and citations against Woodlands residents.
“We would only provide backup units in special circumstances where the city would need a force multiplier,” Sheriff Henderson noted, if incorporation passes in the November 2 referendum.