The Harris County Sheriff’s Office focuses more on the outskirts of Houston than the city itself, which is patrolled first and foremost by the Houston Police Department.
But the Greater Heights has long been a focus for Ed Gonzalez, who planted deep roots in the area long before he was elected as sheriff in 2016. He grew up in the Heights, attending Field Elementary and Hamilton Middle School, and later represented the area as the Houston City Council member for District H.
Gonzalez, a Democrat, hopes those ties pay dividends during the ongoing election cycle that ends Nov. 3. He’s running for re-election against Republican Joe Danna.
“Being a product of the Heights and going to area schools and having worked with the civic clubs, I know the region very well,” Gonzalez said. “I trust that voters will make the best decision.”
Gonzalez’s opponent also has strong ties to the area. Danna grew up in Lindale Park, was married at St. Ambrose Catholic Church and later lived in Mangum Manor and Forest Pines.
Danna also was a longtime deputy for the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, which serves the area. He was fired in 2012 for falsifying documents related to serving a court summons, according to a 2016 report by Houston TV station Fox 26 News. Danna ran for Precinct 1 constable in 2016 and lost to incumbent Alan Rosen.
Multiple requests to interview Danna, made through his campaign, were not granted. His campaign also did not respond to emailed questions about Danna’s past in law enforcement or his platform for running for sheriff.
Danna has been working as a reserve officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, northeast of Houston, according to Cpt. Rickie Childers. Childers said duties associated with the part-time, unpaid position include patrol and bailiff responsibilities as well as working special events.
Childers said the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has not had any concerns or complaints about Danna.
“He’s a good guy,” Childers said. “He does a good job for us. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t keep him here as an officer.”
Gonzalez said Danna’s history with the constable’s office is “troubling.” Gonzalez also touted his own record as an officer for the Houston Police Department, along with his time on the city council and his four years as sheriff, as a reason why he should be re-elected.
Gonzalez said he takes a sensible, data-driven approach to law enforcement and his “North Star every day is the public safety of our community.” Upon taking office four years ago, he said he balanced the sheriff’s office budget and saved millions of dollars by stopping the office’s practice of outsourcing jail inmates to other jurisdictions in Texas and Louisiana.
He said he launched a program called SMART – Sheriff’s Mobile Advocacy Response Team – which Gonzalez described as a multi-disciplinary initiative aimed at reducing domestic violence and sexual assaults. He also created a jail population dashboard to provide the public with daily inmate counts at the Harris County Jail, and Gonzalez said his management of the jail during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a model for other correctional facilities.
Gonzalez called the jail the “largest mental hospital in the state” because a significant number of inmates suffer from mental illness, poverty, homelessness or a combination of those plights. He said he wants to better assess the people who are put in jail and stop the cycle of having mentally ill inmates released and then put back in jail for similar crimes, which Gonzalez said is especially costly to taxpayers.
Gonzalez also said the Harris County Jail population, which is roughly 8,500 per day, could be reduced by coming up with alternatives for low-level, non-violent criminals, such as ankle monitors and drug-testing programs. At the same time, Gonzalez said he wants state legislators to make it more difficult for repeat offenders to be released from jail on bonds, especially when they have a history of committing crimes while out on previous bonds.
He said the existing system is “simply based on money,” meaning those who can afford to bond out are released from jail and those who cannot afford to pay bail remain incarcerated, regardless of the crimes they are accused of committing in many cases.
“We’re tough on crime. We want to catch the bad guys out there committing crimes,” Gonzalez said. “We also can’t ignore humanity and common sense.”