The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

December 2021
The holiday season in Harris County is a time to rest, reflect, and celebrate with close friends and family. But in some communities across our county, as around our nation, families are worrying about increasing crime rates. According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, homicides increased by a third between 2019 and 2021, and aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon increased 31% in that same period of time. The pandemic, a struggling economy, and the widespread availability of guns have created a perfect storm leading to these increases that are being felt here at home and in cities across the United States.   
The good news is that we know violent crime in our county is concentrated in a relatively small number of areas. To target these specific areas, Harris County Commissioners Court last month approved a “Precision Policing” initiative that strategically pinpoints and attacks crime in three parts. First, this initiative uses data, analytics, and mapping to concentrate policing in micro zones, currently seven hotspots that we know suffer from heightened rates of violent crime. Second, the plan will substantially increase police visibility in those areas, prioritizing street-level deterrence and the arrest of repeat offenders. Finally, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office will partner with Constables offices and with these neighborhoods before, during, and after this program concludes to communicate what we’re doing, why, and get the input of these communities to build and maintain trust. They will also collect data on disparities to ensure fairness.
This is just the latest in a slew of initiatives that we’ve launched to address violent crime in Harris County. Over the past several years we have increased the budgets for every law enforcement agency in the county. We’ve invested millions to support our law enforcement by approving additional overtime funding for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes, Adult Special Crimes, and Child Abuse Units, in partnership with our Constables. Earlier this year we launched an innovative, $6 million Gun Violence Interruption Program to address gun violence before it happens. Additionally, just a few months ago we launched the $50 million Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods program to use data to target county neighborhoods where decay and abandonment are driving violent crime. We’ve also approved $5 million to create Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART) to help free up law enforcement from having to deal with calls involving mental illness, substance use, homelessness, and social welfare. Finally, we’ve invested millions to address the backlog in our court system, from $15 million to support faster processing of body cam data, to the establishment of additional visiting and associate judges to work through the backlog. 
For far too long, we’ve been using blunt tools to address crime in our communities. We’ve learned over the past few decades that criminal justice policies like building more prisons and longer mandatory sentencing have failed to meaningfully reduce crime in our communities. Though we can’t change the past, we can now use research-based practices to create the urgent, lasting change we need to prevent violent crime and protect family celebrations for years to come. 
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones!
Lina Hidalgo

County News


Harris County Threat Level Lowered to Yellow, Residents Urged to Get Vaccinated and Boosted for Holiday Season

We have good COVID-19 news, Harris County! Based on a decrease in case numbers, hospitalizations, and positivity rate indicators for COVID-19, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo last month lowered the county’s COVID-19 Threat Level from Level 2: Orange to Level 3: Yellow. Under this threat level, fully vaccinated individuals may resume regular activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by law, or rules or regulations. However, we should remain cautious due to the gradual spread of the Omicron variant around the nation and the lack of data on the severity of illness it may cause, just as many residents begin to travel and attend gatherings for the holiday season. 
“With key trends moving in the right direction we’ve reached another encouraging milestone,” said Judge Hidalgo. “As the holiday season moves into full swing, I encourage everyone to do their part to help us avoid a winter spike other areas are facing. Vaccines for everyone, including children, as well as booster shots are now widely available on-demand across Harris County. Celebrate this amazing time with the peace of mind that you’re doing what is right to protect yourself, your family and your friends by getting vaccinated.” 
Unvaccinated residents are urged to get their vaccine to help Harris County avoid a winter spike. They remain at higher risk and should continue to mask and observe social distancing measures. The COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine booster continues to be available at no charge for all Harris County residents. To find out more information, locations and hours, click here. For a complete list of indicators, guidance, and related information visit

Harris County Unveils Latest State-Of-The-Art Tool to Monitor Pollution Levels

In Harris County, it’s our job to do everything we can to keep residents safe when disaster strikes. While we may not be able to stop a hurricane from hitting our coast, we CAN take steps to help prevent petrochemical incidents that lead to explosions and fires and threaten the health of so many people. Last month Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo unveiled the RAAM — the latest addition to Harris County’s environmental tools to monitor, detect, and report threats to air quality in Harris County. The RAAM can detect a wide array of pollutants, monitor weather, and even launch drones to find leaks using thermal imaging. 
The RAAM is just the latest addition to a broader network of monitoring equipment already deployed across Harris County. Since 2019, Commissioners Court has allocated over $11 million on environmental protection, the most significant enhancement of County environmental protections in at least 30 years. Efforts include the launch of a community monitoring network that brings together data from a number of sources and monitor types to provide a more complete picture of air quality in Harris County. As part of this network 11 additional monitors have been added to the previously installed 12 ozone monitors throughout the county, and 10 more will be added soon. The county has also procured specialized thermal cameras that help detect unauthorized emissions from a distance. This is in addition to the County’s work inspecting Concrete batch plants and pursuing litigation against illegal polluters, as well as developing a risk mapping tool for residents to use to locate potential sources of air pollution. Harris County will continue working hard to ensure our air is clean and safe for all residents.

New Essential Workers Board to Advise Harris County on Worker Protections and Interests 

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare how critical workers are. When many of us were sheltering at-home during the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, Essential Workers were there for us – stocking grocery shelves, caring for children, building homes and making repairs, cleaning office buildings, the list goes on and on. Last month Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved the creation of the Harris County Essential Workers Board (HCEWB) for 13 representatives from essential fields such as transportation, construction, domestic work, and retail that can provide valuable input on how Harris County’s policies and programs can support essential workers.The Board is the first of its kind in the nation, and will focus on protecting communities, workers and businesses during public health emergencies; supporting worker-led, equitable, and cooperative solutions to improving worker’s protections on the job; and promoting safe and healthy workplaces across Harris County. Each Commissioners Court member will appoint a representative through an application process administered by the Harris County Boards and Commissions Office (HCBCO), and the remaining seats will be filled with persons nominated by those members. The Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity (DEEO) will oversee and facilitate the activities of the HCEWB, with the first meeting scheduled tentatively for June 2022. Watch this space for more updates! 

ACCESS Harris Program to Coordinate Services for Vulnerable Clients

Harris County offers a myriad of services and programs for residents in need, such as persons experiencing homelessness, youth aging out of foster care, or adults exiting prison. This assistance tends to be spread out over several county programs which help with services like providing daycare or securing food, housing, or employment. Unfortunately, the departments that run these programs often work independently, which prohibits the sharing of useful information, limits the ability to pool and maximize available funds, and hinders the effectiveness of support provided to clients in need. 
In November, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Comissioner’s Court invested over $388,000 to launch the ACCESS Harris Program, which will ensure that departments are working together to coordinate care and eliminate any gaps in services for our most vulnerable communities. ACCESS Harris’s strategy and management will be led by a Safety Net Collaborative made up of executive leaders of the safety net departments and agencies. Delivery of services will be managed by Care Coordination Cohorts, consisting of case management staff from each of the various County agencies that make up the cohort. The cohorts will meet regularly to discuss individuals enrolled in the program and their needs, ensure that they are referred to the appropriate services, and track their progress through the various services that they are offered. The program has a launch date of March 2022.

Harris County Creates Sexual Assault Response Team to Improve Reporting and Recovery for Survivors

In 2020, there were 13,327 rapes reported in Texas and approximately 2,495 reported rapes in Harris County. However, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), only approximately 23% of survivors reported their victimization to law enforcement in 2020. There are many reasons why survivors of sexual assault may choose not to report their victimization, such as fear of retaliation, fear of being blamed, or a belief that criminal justice systems will either not help or be harmful. In addition, survivors of sexual assault have traditionally not received proper attention and treatment by the criminal justice system, reinforcing their reluctance to come forward. 
In response, Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) were developed advise County governments on how to prioritize survivors’ needs and improve community response to sexual assault. SARTs are teams including individuals from different disciplines, community organizations, and criminal justice system agencies that provide a holistic and collaborative approach to responding to and treating survivors of sexual violence. In October, Commissioners Court approved a motion directing the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) to form a Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in full compliance with SB 476, a Texas mandate ordering the creation of county-based sexual assault response teams (SARTs). The newly created SART consists of the members of the pre-existing Sexual Assault Steering Committee, which includes representatives from a variety of law enforcement, health, non-profit, and governmental institutions such as Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC), the Houston Police Department, and the Harris Forensic Science Center, among others. SART held its first meeting on November 19, 2021. 

Harris County Adopts Guidelines to Incorporate Equity Across All Departments

Too often, Harris County residents experience different opportunities and outcomes depending on their zip code, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, the language they speak and/or other characteristics. In 2019, the gender wage gap in Harris County was 20% larger than in comparable urban areas such as Los Angeles County (12%), Cook County (12%), or New York City (8%). Last year, a disparity study completed by Colette Holt & Associates estimated that only 9% of Harris County contracting dollars were directed to Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs), compared to M/WBE availability of 28% in related industries. Harris County has been working hard to rectify these inequalities by establishing the Office of Economic Opportunity as well as adapting inclusion guidelines for contractors.
In November, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court adopted new guidelines for advancing equity across county programs and services and equity commitments for county departments. Specifically, the guidelines commit the Office of County Administration to deliver key initiatives to implement equity over the next seven months and outline strategies and opportunities for county departments to advance equity.

Harris County to Develop Dashboard to Collect Bail Bond Data

Bail bonds are big business in a criminal justice system that prioritizes profits over public safety. When a bond is set for a suspect in a crime, they can approach a bail bond business to post the bond for them. Bondsmen typically post the entirety of the bond amount and collect a percentage of that bond from a defendant as payment. For example, if a defendant had a $10,000 bond, ordinarily they would pay $1,000 (10%) to the bondsman. However, many bondsmen are currently agreeing to one to two percent payment, well below the typical 10% that defendants usually have to pay, allowing many more defendants to get out on bond than usual.
Last month, Harris County Commissioner’s Court voted to develop a dashboard to record data on bail bonds in Harris County, including information on the offense charged, the amount of bond issued, the identity of the individual or firm securing the bond, and any other relevant information. The dashboard will encourage more transparency around bond amounts and the amounts defendants actually pay to bondsmen. While bail bond contracts are private, and Harris County cannot force bondsmen to disclose their contract terms with defendants, this is a first step in determining what can be done at the County or state level to increase transparency around bond contracts and their effect on justice and crime.

Harris County Commissioners Court Passes Resolution to Honor Veterans

There are 17.4 million veterans in the United States, and based on recent U.S. Census statistics Harris County is home to more than 180,000 of these veterans, the largest veteran population in Texas. No veteran should go without benefits they rightfully earned, such as medical care or the free college tuition they were promised, and their families shouldn’t have to fight through red tape to get the death benefits our nation owes them. 
Over the past two years Harris County has done the quiet work of meeting our commitment to veterans. The county’s Veterans Services Department has nearly doubled the number of benefit claims and appeals it has handled compared with last year and expanded its crisis and suicide intervention services for troubled veterans. We are also proud that Harris County’s Precinct 2 Veterans Services has become the only National Association of County Veteran Service Officers nationally accredited Veteran Service Officer (VSO) team in Harris County.
We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the many veterans who have served in the U.S, but on November 11th, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court passed a resolution to honor the service of the Harris County Veterans who bravely defended our nation. To all of our Harris County veterans — thank you for your service.

Upcoming Events


Upcoming Commissioners Court Meetings

As part of the County Judge’s Office initiative to make local government more transparent and accessible, we invite you to get involved by viewing Commissioners Court meetings. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, and watch the official close captioned livestream here or on the Judge’s homepage here.

Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings

Harris County never stops preparing for the next big storm. And while the 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program is in full swing, we continue to seek input from community members as we implement projects in watersheds across the County. If you have a comment about a particular project, we invite you to attend the corresponding virtual meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here.

Hazardous Waste Collection Appointments

Do you have unwanted household hazardous items? Properly dispose of them by making an appointment with the Household Hazardous Waste Collections facility at 6900 Hahl Road in Houston. Learn what items are accepted and make an appointment here.

About Judge Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body and Director of the Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.
For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here.