The Woodlands is not Prepared to Provide Sufficient Law Enforcement Services
THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The Woodlands Township Board of Directors adopted the January 15, 2020 Novak Law Enforcement report and shared it with the community as a blueprint for establishing a new police department for a future City of The Woodlands. We were engaged by The Howard Hughes Corporation to analyze this report, based on our combined 80 years of police department operational and financial oversight. Although Howard Hughes has been clear about its opposition to incorporation, we have no opinion on this matter and have offered none. As law enforcement professionals, we focused solely on evaluating the merits of the Novak Law Enforcement report, which is posted on The Woodlands Township incorporation website, embedded in the Township’s Incorporation Study Consolidated Report, and was adopted by the Board and declared final. Our report, a critique of the Novak plan, was released on September 6, 2021.
In response to the many inaccurate financial projections we identified, the Township Board and staff have argued that our findings are incorrect because more current information can now be found in the Township’s budget projections, which have been increased since the law enforcement plan was adopted to offset expected cost increases due to incorporation. They claim our findings are, therefore, incorrect. This is a deflection, and wrong. The financial and operational shortcomings we identified in the Novak plan are accurate and validated by the Township, based on the increases made to their budgets for labor and vehicles. In other words, even as they criticized our findings, they were making the very financial changes we suggested, while failing to update the Novak Law Enforcement report they encouraged residents to study on the incorporation website.
However, far more disturbing than the financial issues we identified in the plan’s own numbers were the critical services and costs the Novak plan completely ignored. These oversights will seriously jeopardize the ability of The Woodlands to protect public safety. Rather than address these important topics, the Board has instead needlessly attacked our report in what appears to be a political exercise to deflect rather than a sincere desire to understand and address major operational and legal issues. The Township budget is not the law enforcement plan. Attempts to divert attention from serious law enforcement operational issues is shortsighted, deceptive, and a disservice to the community.
It is important for residents of The Woodlands to understand that there is no such thing as a “Hybrid Model” of law enforcement. You either provide law enforcement services or you don’t. We are unaware of any community that has adopted a hybrid structure wherein two different governments share law enforcement duties. This would unwisely split investigative responsibilities and liabilities, generating chaos, communication breakdowns, and significant inter-operational conflicts between the city and the county.
Furthermore, rather than determining the specific needs of The Woodlands based on crime statistics, input from residents, business owners, and other law enforcement officials, the Novak plan simply replicates Montgomery County’s current manpower and job descriptions. If The Woodlands undertakes the tremendous expense of creating its own police department, it should be designed specifically for The Woodlands. Our own multi-year evaluation of crime statistics found incidents of crime remarkably low and overall police protection to be very good. This begs a critical, unanswered question: What problem will be solved with a new police department?
The Township’s law enforcement plan also ignores the transfer of accountability and liability from the counties to the new city. This is an enormous issue, especially considering the frequency of lawsuits filed against police departments and officers. The Novak plan did not address this matter, nor has the Township’s Board. With a vote and the potential for incorporation less than a month away, The Woodlands is unprepared to manage and fund the liabilities it would be responsible for immediately upon incorporation.
We identified many other issues not addressed by the board, including a woefully insufficient description of how the new police department will comply with federal requirements, the need for far greater investment in equipment and technology, and the lack of any explanation regarding police training and how staffing would be provided and paid for to combat and investigate a wide variety of crimes. While we have not enumerated the gap in the budget for each of these issues, the costs would be substantial. It must be emphasized: the cost understatements identified to this point pale in comparison to the operational deficiencies found in the law enforcement report.
These issues, among others, received so little attention that we are of the professional opinion that the Township does not have a viable operational plan for public safety. There are simply too many unanswered questions that will adversely affect the new city’s ability to address crime and disorder within The Woodlands. The Woodlands is not prepared to sufficiently and reliably provide law enforcement services necessary to adequately ensure public safety.
Tim Oettmeier is the Former Executive Assistant Chief of Police of the Houston Police Department
Joe Fenninger is the Former Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer of the Houston Police Department