Ed Gonzalez Harris County Sheriff
Que Onda: Today is Friday August 16th and we are here with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. How are you sheriff?
Gonzalez: I’m doing well, good to see you.
Que Onda: We just want to ask you different questions about police matters. Talk to me about Human trafficking, tell me what’s going on in the Harris County Houston area.
Gonzalez: The greater Houston area Harris County is a hub because we have a lot of major street and freeway networks. We are a border state so there is a lot of traffic that happens when people travel through the greater Houston area to go to the east coast and/or west coast. We have a major port, we have international airports, and we are a very diverse economy so we see both human smuggling, human trafficking, sex trafficking. People call it different things but a lot of it comes down to people being forced to work against their will or people who commit sexual acts to pay off their debts. Sometimes they may be smuggled into the country. Many years ago, you would just have to pay a certain fee, then they would bring you and that would be it. Now because it’s a money making venture for them, they will say “Well now you owe me an extra $5,000 and you’re going to have to become a prostitute.” Or they will go to another country and they’ll tell them “I know where your parents are, i’ll hurt them if you don’t complete what I’m asking you to do.” Now they’re afraid that they’re in a country without a way to get back home and they’re afraid for their families safety. A lot of the prostitution has gone more underground because now there are apps, there is the dark web, and there are different things that are being done. It’s not as open as it used to be where before there were certain streets that you could drive and family would point out the prostitutes and say “Look we know they’re out there and they’re working.” Now you still see some of that but it’s not the same so it’s a big issue because people are more aware of it. There is a lot work being done we are apart of a lot of different task forces. There is a lot of major events and those types of events attract a lot of travelers from all over the world. We can never stop everybody but we should always keep up with it.
Que Onda: Do you see that in different nationality or mainly Latinos?
Gonzalez: Different nationalities some of the ones that are targeted come from Latin American countries, Mexico, China, Asia, and Thailand. You see a lot of those countries where there is poverty perhaps or where there’s folks being targeted and even unfortunately children as well. There is a market for it out there.
Que Onda: Do you see some of the cartels as another hub for distribution?
Gonzalez: It’s definitely a Hub for distribution of drugs it’s a big network through here sometimes. they just cut through here because they come through the border to go to other places like Louisiana, so they’ll take I-10 or they’re going through the west coast like California or they’ll go to the midwest so it’s definitely a cordal for drugs there’s drug cartels present. We don’t see the same kind of violence that we see in Mexico. I think it’s important as well that people understand that the United States is a consumer nation. We do consume drugs at a high level and so that’s one of the reasons that we see what’s happening in Mexico is frankly is there is a demand for it and people want to buy drugs and they’re going to do it and the focus should be done on the treatment on intervention. We are never going to incarcerate our way out of here. We could put people in jail for drugs but we are not dealing with their addictions. We are simply putting them in jail and there is somebody else that is willing to buy those drugs.
Que Onda: So you think that it’s necessary to do more educational programs?
Gonzalez: Yes absolutely because I think too often in law enforcement we’re being asked to be in the front lines of three important areas that’s drug addiction, mental illness and poverty type issues. Law enforcement can have a role in there but if somebody is driving while intoxicated, what punishment for driving but who is dealing with the alcoholism? Nobody. So we gotta find ways to deal with that because if you deal with the drinking issue you solve the driving while intoxicated. Same with narcotics if you deal with somebody’s addiction you don’t see them in jail, we tend to arrest them for what they did instead of dealing with their addiction. and just because you put them in jail they’re going to come back out and they’re gonna go back to do it again. So we gotta be smarter instead of just incarcerating people, there’s some people who do need to be in jail but there are others who have mental illnesses in here, we have individuals with dementia that are senior. They should be in a personal care facility, getting personal attention not be in a jail facility when they don’t even know who they are.
Que Onda: Are next question is, when the jails get full how do you keep guys from coming in and coming out? Who gets arrested and who doesn’t?
Gonzalez: We do have what we call reentry programs inside our facility for men and women. We have partnership where we try to get them help, we have a veterans program so if somebody has served in the military sometimes they commit crime when they come out of the military because they’re dealing with PTSD and mental illness. They’ll drink or do something with drugs and they end up incarcerated. We try to get them the program and support they need so that when they come out they can go to work and become productive and get them to stay busy with something positive. Also the county, our cashbuild system was being unconstitutional in terms of we always use the system of money to determine who stays in jail or not. It really wasn’t based on safety we need to become more safety risk informed. Which means just because you committed a crime it should not matter that you have money to get out and somebody poor stays in jails. It should be viewed is this person is a risk because almost 70% people we have in jail today and we have 8500, over 60% are pre trail detainees.
Que Onda: Just here in the Harris County?
Gonzalez: Yes in the Harris County only.
Que Onda: Some are waiting to be processed to the Penitentiary?
Gonzalez: A few and a couple of hundred are waiting to go to the Penitentiary or their trial. If they’re here till that happens well we’re paying for that to feed them to house them. We have a medical clinic for them here, so all of that stuff costs money.
Que Onda: You guys have a medical clinic?
Gonzalez: Yeah, a full medical clinic here.
Que Onda: Someone gets sick or somebody fights they go there?
Gonzalez: They go there. We have doctors, we have nurses 24/7. We have a pharmacy here 24/7. Even CVS and Walgreens are all open 24 hours. We have 24 hours. So it’s a big operation that all costs money for people that haven’t been convicted yet and we gotta remember that in our system if you get accused of a crime you have the opportunity to get out of jail and go to court. now if you don’t go to court, you’re violating that. Now if somebody is truly violent then yeah they should stay. There’s some people that should not be out in the streets but with 8500 people there’s probably some in the system that just have mental illness that have some type of drug addiction, non violent type of offenses.
Que Onda: What about those guys from another country especially from Mexico or South America? They get so afraid, let’s say on a Friday night they go party they make a mistake they get arrested at a club and they don’t come home because ICE took over.
Gonzalez: We have a jail based system which means as a sheriff office, we’re not out ooking for people that are undocumented that’s not our job we don’t do that. But now by state law the SB4 that passed a couple of years back, we are required to comply with ICE when they have a request. Now we don’t have anybody in here that is only here for ICE, it’s because of some type of crime. So they committed a crime. We are focused only on the crime they committed but if the system flagged somebody that has a warrant or was deported before then they may be exposed to being transferred to ICE.
Que Onda: How many people are working for your administration?
Gonzalez: Our administration has about 5,000 employees. So half, about 2,500 are deputies and other ar detentional officers.
Que Onda: How much budget do you get per year?
Gonzalez: Our budget is approximately 500 million dollars per year.
Que Onda: How is that spent?
Gonzalez: It’s spent on medicine, food, supplies, patrol cars, etc. The vast majority of our cost is personal related.
Que Onda: When is your next election?
Gonzalez: My next election is 2020.
Que Onda: How long have you been a sheriff?
Gonzalez: I’ve been a sheriff for 2 and a half years and it’s a 4 year term.
Que Onda: How does it feel to be a sheriff? Is it different from HPD (Houston Police Department)?
Gonzalez: It’s different because now I’m running the entire agency. Now I get to oversee, lead, and manage it. I love serving the community, it’s natural to me. Most of my expertise is law enforcement, I’m always researching and learning better ways to do this position. If you don’t stay current with your work, I believe you should always be evolving. So we’re always looking for opportunities to better serve the community. Technology is improving, back then there wasn’t any cell phone cameras and now there are different kinds of cell phones and laptops.
Que Onda: What do you guys do for the community? What is the involvement of the sheriff’s office?
Gonzalez: We are very community focused, so we like to have a presence in the community. We are working to get better programs for Alzheimer’s and dementia when they leave facilities. We do self seatbelt safety checks since in our regions we have lots of accidents with children not wearing seatbelts. We do active shooting training as well, so if they were to have an incident somewhere then they can be better prepared. We also have a program to teach females self defense so they can protect themselves.
Que Onda: What percentage of the 5000 officers that you have are bilingual?
Gonzalez: We do have a large number of officers that are bilingual. Some speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, etc.
Que Onda: Anything you like to say to the Hispanic community?
Gonzalez: As we enter Hispanic heritage month, I think it’s important to always continue to pause and recognize the many contributions of the Hispanic American community in this country. They do tremendous contributions not only for law enforcement but for many positions as well. We are apart of this American dream, we are apart of this country. We need to continue to tell positive stories because our communities are viewed or can be viewed in a negative way. I was very sad and scared seeing what happened in El Paso. I believe that it is the first time that a community was specifically targeted because of who they are or the color of their skin.
Que Onda: Are you working 24/7?
Gonzalez: Yes I work 24/7. It’s 1700 square miles of a county and I care deeply for my work. I love being a hands on sheriff and I always want to make sure we are all there when something happens.
Que Onda: Sheriff thank you so much for your time and your answers.
Gonzalez: You’re welcome.