Neighborhood board member says residents worried about security
With the recent cut of one deputy from his team contracted to patrol the Cinco Ranch subdivision, Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Constable Rob Cook sees challenges ahead to maintain the same coverage for the community.
Some residents share the concern.
The cut followed passionate debates late last year among board members of the homeowners association, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Craig Brady and Cook when the association's security patrol contracts with both law-enforcement agencies were up for renewal.
The contracts, funded through homeowners' association dues, offer the neighborhoods added security as a supplement to regular policing by the sheriff's office.
The elimination of the deputy position stemmed from the association's need to divert part of its security budget for purchase of surveillance cameras to monitor vandalism-plagued parks and recreation areas. The association board was divided on whether to reduce the sheriff's five-person force or the constable's four-deputy team to come up with the money.
An October board decision to add one more deputy to Cook's team and trim two from the sheriff's team was later rescinded, and differences on a solution persisted among board members.
The issue was put to rest on Dec. 13 when, after lengthy deliberation, the board voted to retain the sheriff's five-member team and slash one of Cook's deputy positions.
With the new contracts, which were scheduled to be signed on Jan. 12, the Cinco Ranch Property Owners Association pays the sheriff's office $413,680 and the constable's office $253,150 for services that run through Sept. 30. Both forces patrol Cinco Ranch Section 1, which has 8,740 occupied homes, while the sheriff's team also covers Cinco Ranch Section 2, which has about 1,500 homes.
That decision concerned Cook and some residents, including association board member Morgan Stagg, who voted against cutting the constable's force.
"They liked our service so much that in October the board voted to hire one more of my people," Cook said. "But all of a sudden they changed that, and I was completely kept out of the loop."
Stagg, who is on the association's security advisory committee, said the board decision ran against the committee's recommendation last year to add two more people to Cook's team.
"Buying surveillance cameras and other equipment to help protect community assets seems to be a justifiable reason," Stagg said. "But my concern was that we didn't take this issue to the residents for their feedback before we made an arbitrary decision to reduce our patrol force."
Some neighborhood representatives also planned to address the association board on their concerns about the patrol coverage with the new contract, she said.
Concerns about coverage
The association first contracted for constable patrol in 2007 when one deputy was hired to augment coverage by the sheriff's office. The next year, three more constable's deputies were hired.
Cook said the loss of one person from his team makes it difficult to provide the same level of service to the community as when he had four deputies.
"Although we now only have three deputies, our commitment to the neighborhoods' safety and security will not change. I think the citizens of Cinco Ranch deserve that," he said.
Having one less deputy affects his operation, he said.
"We're not going to be as flexible to move people around and change some schedules," he said. "You can't cover as many shifts as you like. Losing one person - that's five shifts a week."
To illustrate, he said with two of his deputies working the two day shifts, if the association desires overnight patrol, the deputy covering the evening would have to skip the daytime shift to work the nighttime duty.
Stagg anticipates more concerns to be expressed by neighbors.
"It's going to be difficult for deputies to fill all the time slots throughout the week. There's not going to be as much coverage as before," she said.
Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said residents "have no real basis for concerns" because of losing one deputy.
"It's difficult to quantify the benefit of having nine deputies over eight," he said.
He said sheriff's deputies on contract are rarely pulled away for problems outside the contract area, contrary to concerns brought to his attention. When deputies do attend to an emergency outside the contract, he said, the sheriff's office would make sure that other deputies fill in the gaps.
Association president Jason Blackman didn't return calls seeking a comment.
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