Vol. 10 | August 2021
Harris County, Texas, is striving to lead in criminal justice innovation in the United States. The efforts described in this NEWSLETTER represent JAD's work for the Harris County Commissioners Court, and only a selection of JAD's pioneering policy work. JAD will continue to build coalitions with local stakeholders in the coming months and years, identify successful initiatives from other jurisdictions and forge innovative, evidence-based reforms from the ground up.
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD
JAD Working with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
to Showcase Traffic Stop Data
By: Matthew Sweeney, JAD
On June 9th, 2020, the Harris County Commissioners Court passed a motion made by Commissioner Garcia for JAD to analyze existing racial profiling data produced by law enforcement. JAD collected data from Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) on traffic stops in 2020 as the only available source of existing public traffic stop data in Harris County. JAD examined the gender and racial demographics of traffic stops in Harris County, including disaggregated statistics on search rates, contraband discovery, stop results including arrest, citations, and warnings, and the use of force rates for each Constable Precinct and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
In total, Harris County Departments did not have many disparate results. However, the data shows some disparate results related to driver gender, the racial distribution of citations, and the racial distribution of force resulting in bodily injury. Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies are two times more likely to stop males compared to females. This result is consistent across all Departments and other Texas Counties. In 66% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, Hispanic drivers, relative to the overall number of stops, receive a larger proportion of citations than other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, in 62.5% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, Black Drivers are more likely to experience force that results in bodily injury than other racial and ethnic groups. Finally, in 37.5% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, White drivers are more likely to experience force that results in bodily injury.
While we did find disparities in traffic stops, the data is extremely limited based on the legislative requirements. There are significant gaps in traffic stop characteristics. For example, we do not know when a peace officer requests to search, but the driver declines. Similarly, some data is missing for racial and ethnic demographics, likely due to the Agency’s system not requiring a peace officer to collect the information on every traffic stop.
JAD made several recommendations focused on public education and improving data sharing and collection. The Agencies should provide complaint information in multiple languages and accessible online methods to submit complaints. Additionally, Agencies should develop and issue informational cards on complaint and compliment processes that can give specific information on where and how to file a complaint or compliment after a formal interaction between a peace officer and a subject. Constable Garcia, Precinct Two, has recently implemented an online complaint and commendation form on his new website and developed complaint and commendation business cards in three languages. The data component will need significant County investment. After meeting with Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, JAD suggested that Harris County consider updating law enforcement systems to mandate data collection, expand the data departments collect, and generate automated analysis. If Harris County can achieve these recommendations, we would have the fastest and most accurate data collection and reporting in Texas.
To increase public transparency of traffic stop demographics, JAD launched the Harris County Traffic Stop Demographic Dashboard. The dashboard provides visualizations of the traffic stop characteristics, outcomes, and demographics from all agencies that submit data to TCOLE. The dashboard provides visualizations of individual departments, comparisons between Bexar County, Dallas County, Harris County, Tarrant County, and Travis County. Users can further inspect the raw data and view a relative rate index of how racial and ethnic group outcomes compare to a reference group of White drivers. This dashboard is unique in Texas and the public will have direct and easy access to examining the traffic stop characteristics, outcomes, and racial and ethnic composition of any reporting agency in the state.

Criminal Case Backlog
By: Stephanie Armand, JAD
On July 20th, Harris County Commissioners Court approved $2.5 million in funds to establish three emergency response dockets to serve the primary purpose of prioritizing the most serious criminal cases in Criminal District Courts to reduce the criminal case backlog significantly. Additional funds were also approved to expand jury operations at NRG Arena.   Beginning August 2nd, the number of voir dire spaces will be raised from four to seven spaces, Monday through Friday.

Several other initiatives are still being developed, such as Associate Judge Programs for the Criminal District Courts and County Criminal Courts, two Visiting Judges for Trial Impact Dockets for the County Criminal Courts, and resources needed to address delays in processing evidence. 

Justice Administration and Budget Management will work with the Administrative Office of the District Courts and the Office of Court Management to provide monthly reporting to Commissioners Court on the progress to reduce the criminal case backlog.  
Stay tuned for monthly reports on new initiatives and the progress on reducing the backlog.
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements
JAD Unveils Statewide Traffic Stop Data Dashboard in Response to Study Revealing Need for System and Data Improvements
By: Laura Lucas, JAD
The Justice Administration Department (JAD) presented findings to Commissioners Court on traffic stops' gender and racial demographics in Harris County. This comes after Commissioners Court passed a motion, last year, for JAD to examine “existing racial profiling data produced by law enforcement.
In response to the findings, JAD developed a publicly accessible dashboard that presents traffic stop data from all Texas departments that submit to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). The dashboard contains visualizations whereby a user can select a department and a variable to display the information based on racial demographics. A second tab compares Harris County to Bexar County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, and Travis County. The final view provides the ability to inspect the raw data and compare racial and ethnic groups.
Public access to data pertaining to traffic stops is a valuable tool for the public, law enforcement, and community partners as they identify possible solutions or improvements to current practices. Most residents encounter law enforcement and many have pushed for information to analyze gender and racial demographics. Based upon the Commissioners Court request, JAD’s policy team began analyzing public traffic stop data submitted by law enforcement to TCOLE.
Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2, stated, “Even before coming into office, when I was still an active Law Enforcement officer, I have always believed in transparency and easily-digestible presentations of data that can lead to positive changes. The findings of this new dashboard from JAD, while not surprising, are important and can inform actions that can bring meaningful change. In order for Harris County to be a place where everyone is treated fairly, regardless of race or ethnicity, we must have reliable data to help us understand areas for improvement. I support JAD’s recommendations and urge all relevant County Law Enforcement departments to consider making changes that contribute to the dashboard.”
In June of 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1849, known as the Sandra Bland Act, into law. This requires law enforcement departments to collect traffic stop information on the drivers, the characteristics of stops, and the outcomes of stops. This data is then submitted to TCOLE.
Using the most recently available data (2020) TCOLE traffic stop data, JAD examined the gender, and racial demographics of traffic stops in Harris County, including disaggregated statistics on search rates, contraband discovery, stop results including arrest, citations, and warnings, and the use of force resulting in bodily injury rates for each Constable Precinct and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
Overall, the analysis does not show significant racial inequality in rates of traffic stops, consent searches, and contraband discovery. The data also does not show any significant difference between Departments. However, JAD identified several key findings regarding disparate results and gaps in data.
  • All Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies are twice as likely to perform a traffic stop when a driver is male compared to a female.
  • Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies issue more citations than written and verbal warnings to specific racial and ethnic groups.
  • Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies use force that results in bodily injury against Black and White drivers more frequently than against other racial/ethnic groups.
However, the data used presents several gaps, including (1) most Departments do not provide multilingual complaint documentation and do not have online complaint submission methods; (2) Constable Precincts are not well defined, making it difficult to compare TCOLE data to census data.

The report makes several recommendations that call for an increase in public access to the complaint processes, an increase in the quality and accessibility of additional data, and improvements to Harris County law enforcement agencies’ submission of reports to TCOLE. Some of those recommendations are already taking place.

Our office is open, honest, and transparent. We have reached out to JAD on numerous occasions in our effort to have policies based on best practices. JAD has made some recommendations to improve our practices and we have implemented several changes already. For example, we have developed an easy online process where individuals can file a complaint or provide commendation, and we plan to introduce more best practices in the near future,” said Constable Jerry Garcia, Precinct 2.

Click how to use Dashboard Guide, PowerPoint Presentation on Dashboard, Full Report, and Summary of Report. Or visit the JAD website. Additionally, to view the presentation on Commissioners Court, click here.
Media Articles
Media Coverage
Data & Analytics News-Bytes
Traffic Stop Data and Guide
By: Laura Hogan, JAD

On June 9th, 2020, Commissioners Court passed a motion for the Harris County Justice Administration Department to analyze existing racial profiling data produced by law enforcement (Supplemental Item 18). JAD received data from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), which resulted in two efforts to address the motion: a report presented to Commissioners Court and the Harris County Traffic Stop Demographics Dashboard.

The dashboard’s purpose is to allow users to see various metrics of the different outcomes and possibilities during a traffic stop. While the dashboard’s focus is Harris County, data across Texas can be seen as well from the TCOLE data.

This dashboard provides a summary, comparison, and details in the following visuals:
  • County Summary – shows metrics on a selected county and category; it provides interactive filter options on departments, categories, subcategories, and race where applicable
  • County Comparison – compares Traffic Stop, Search Reasons and Search Results for Harris County compared to Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, and Travis Counties
  • TCOLE Details – allows the viewer to see totals and counts at the lowest, granular level on data received from TCOLE
  • Guide - The Harris County Traffic Stop Dashboard Guide walks the viewer through the dashboard elements and how to understand their purpose
What’s Happening Around Harris County
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court Pass New Initiatives to Combat Criminal Court Backlog
By: Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo

Right now, all across the nation, violent crime is increasing due to the pandemic and the associated economic challenges -- unfortunately, the same is true here in Harris County. And, while some categories of crime are increasing, around 100,000 criminal cases are pending in Harris County, including 40,000 cases that are well past national standards in how long it should take for them to be addressed. This backlog of cases has increased by 40% since 2017, when Hurricane Harvey first spurred delays. As more and more time passes from when a crime is committed to the resolution of a case, victims feel ignored, perpetrators feel empowered, and those accused who are innocent feel left behind.  

To build on other efforts to address the violent crime rate, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners County approved new actions last week to help the judicial branch of our government move through this backlog of criminal cases, including:

  • The addition of six additional associate judges to assist the 22 Criminal District Courts to reduce the backlog.
  • The approval of $600,000 dollars in funds to expand jury operations at NRG. 
  • Funding for visiting judges to help support our associate judges get through cases.  
  • A major and historic $15M investment in technology for law enforcement which will make body cam systems more efficient to speed up processing of court cases by making necessary evidence available quickly. It currently takes 6 months for bodycam evidence that is required for a case to move forward to become available.   
Previously, Commissioners Court has allocated additional overtime funding for detectives in the Harris County Sheriff's Office’s Violent Crimes, Adult Special Crimes, and Child Abuse Units to work cases in the most violent crimes through improved information sharing, expedited investigations, and targeted investigations focusing on repeat offenders and organized criminal activity in known hotspots. Commissioners Court also previously approved a resolution for the Texas legislature to add an additional criminal district court in Harris County, which passed this session. These aren’t the first actions we have taken to address the crime increase in Harris County and they won’t be the last.  
General Order Bond (GOB) Pilot Program Launches
By: Office of the Harris Center
The General Order Bond (GOB) Pilot Program was created to identify, engage and link clients who are bonding out of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Jail, via a General Order Bond. These individuals are typically in need of mental health services and other community resources. In many cases, these individuals are being released without prior knowledge of these free community resources that are available to them.

We have seen first-hand, the tremendous results this pilot has provided to the individuals participating in the program,” stated Wayne Young, Chief Executive Officer of The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. “In such a short amount of time, we were able to connect these individuals with services and resources to provide immediate assistance to help them remain safe, healthy and off the streets in Harris County.”

In collaboration with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD), Harris County Pretrial Services, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, and the Texas Correctional Office of Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI), these individuals are released with resources and services that can lead to reduced recidivism rates.

"The General Order Bond Pilot Program is a key component to aiding in breaking the generational cycle of imprisonment by requiring attention to improving and fostering support from the appropriate outlets these individuals need," stated Jim Bethke, Interim Director PreTrial Services. "Numerous Harris County partners, including PreTrial Services and the Justice Administration Department are working collaboratively to ensure that Harris County moves the needle forward to reduce recidivism and this GOB program presented by the Harris Center is a huge leap forward.
Through a variety of methods already in place, GOB staff are able to identify the targeted population and engage these clients to determine their individual needs. This engagement is done during their processing to ensure efficiency and time for coordinating community linkage. Some of the needs, referrals, and direct assistance are assessed and/or provided include transportation (metro bus passes), housing (shelter or housing vouchers), clothing, gold card (medical needs), SSI benefits, mental health services a Harris Center clinic, and/or services provided in The Harris Center’s Respite, Rehab, and Re-entry Center (located at 6160 S. Loop E. Freeway).

The pilot program was launched on June 17, 2021, and is located on the second floor of the Harris County Joint Processing Center. Staff is available Thursday thru Monday - 24 hours a day. As of July 20, 2021, the program has identified and engaged 719 clients. 
Curbside Larry Recognized by Texas
By: John Schaffer, Harris County Public Library
Harris County Public Library's, Curbside Larry made his debut in July of 2020 to tell people about the library’s curbside pickup program, which allows readers to reserve books and pick them up from the parking lot instead of entering the library.

During Commissioners Court on July 20th, 2021 Commissioners recognized Curbside Larry for his contribution to Harris County and its residents.

Below is a write-up from Curbside Larry himself. thanking the Commissioners, library, and residents for all of their support.
Hello, my name is John Schaffer, but you may know me as the library spokesman, Curbside Larry

I could never have imagined a year ago that I would be where I am today. In the middle of a pandemic when it seemed like there was nothing but bad news, some co-workers and I just wanted to get the message out that the Harris County Public Library was open for curbside service. 

And because libraries are passionate about the communities they serve, we created “Curbside Larry,” A loud, very enthusiastic, sunglasses-cowboy hat wearin’ spokesperson - and it worked. 

We got the message out that people could pick up their books and materials safely, and with a smile (even if that smile was covered up in a mask). And, although we only trying to reach the people of Harris County, our little library commercial seemed to remind people around the globe how much their libraries meant to them, and how important they are – especially now. 

I’m so fortunate to work for a library system that encourages creativity and supports staff initiative. It truly is a wonderful culture to be a part of. 

Of course, I would like to thank the Texas Library Association for their recognition with the Branding Iron award and the Harris County Public Library. 

But I would also like to thank some very special people that made “Curbside Larry” possible; Laura Bonds, Amanda Hebert, Geri Marquez, Cathy Clark, Clara Maynard, and the entire Staff of the Barbara Bush Branch Library.  And last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Commissioner’s Court for their recognition and continued support to the Harris County public library.

Thank You. 
An Update on the 87th Texas Legislative Special Session 
Texas Legislature Special Session on Hold
By: Lindsey Linder, JAD

Texas’ first special session of the 87th Legislative Session began on July 8, and one of the primary issues being considered during the special session is legislation related to bail.
Identical bills were filed in the House (HB 2) and Senate (SB 6) relating to rules for setting the amount of bail, to the release of certain defendants on a monetary bond or personal bond, to related duties of certain officers taking bail bonds and of a magistrate in a criminal case, to charitable bail organizations, and to the reporting of information pertaining to bail bonds. SB 6 passed the Senate on July 13 but has yet to be sent to the House. HB 2 has been pending in the House Calendars Committee since July 17.
The special session is set to end on August 7. However, Governor Abbott has stated he will immediately call another special session once the first special session ends. 
JAD Will Hold the Next CJCC Meeting on

Thursday, September 9th
12:30pm - 2:00pm