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New squad aims to crackdown on Harris County's most dangerous fugitives
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As Harris County continues to grapple with violent crime, local law enforcement agencies are creating a new, 16-member squad tasked with hunting down dangerous fugitives, authorities have announced.

The task force will be staffed with deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s eight constables, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said, in a news conference Tuesday shortly before commissioners voted to approve the measure.

The task force will be modeled after the U.S. Marshals’ Gulf Coast Violent Offenders and Fugitive Task Force, Garcia said, calling the effort a “historic” investment in the county’s efforts to reduce the backlog of warrants of those charged with violent crimes.

The new unit will focus exclusively on tracking down the “most violent” offenders, he said, meaning those wanted for aggravated robberies and assaults, murders, assaults in which robbers used weapons, assaults against children or family members, and sexual assaults.

The task force will also focus on the newest warrants, officials said.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the effort was meant to send a message to criminals who might believe they can act with impunity.

“When dangerous criminals aren’t apprehended quickly, it creates a sense that the government does not do its part in addressing serious crimes, making victims feel ignored and perpetrators empowered,” she said. “That’s why this specific initiative is so important.”

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez noted that the county presently has 4,800 warrants for people wanted on aggravated felonies, with about 1,000 warrants for bond revocations.

“Every community and every precinct in Harris County has violent offenders that have absconded,” he said. “We want them to know we are going to be out there looking for them.”

Eight of the deputies, and a pair of supervisors, will come from the sheriff’s office. Each of Harris County’s constables will also contribute a deputy, if they agree to join the effort, Garcia said. So far, six of the county constables have expressed interest in the task force or agreed to participate.

The departments will have 30 days after the task force’s formation to agree to participate in it. If any of the constables decide not to, the position they would have taken will go to a sheriff’s deputy, according to county records show.

The new initiative coincides with a countywide spike in crime — and the accompanying increase in arrest warrants filed every month with the sheriff’s office. As of March, the sheriff’s office’s warrants division had 50,247 outstanding warrants, including nearly 5,000 for aggravated offenses and more than 700 for murder. That number has only accelerated over the past few years: Before 2019, the warrants division received between 3,000 and 4,000 warrants a month, according to county data. Over the past year, that number has climbed to about 6,000 new warrants per month.

County officials said they believe the unit will end up making about 1,300 arrests a year, clearing a total of about 1,800 felony warrants in that time. The program will end up costing the county just over $2.5 million, according to a program proposal.

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said he was glad to hear of the initiative and looking forward to hearing more specifics about how it would work.

Like the sheriff’s office, his department also fields a warrant team, he said. However, the new task force would be especially helpful because it would target some of the most dangerous people across the county, he said.

“There are more suspected criminals on the streets of Harris County than ever before,” Herman said, blaming that increase on recent criminal justice reforms. “It’s dangerous and volatile times for police officers, but I do think these programs are good ideas. The main thing is to keep violent offenders off the streets and hopefully stop the revolving door when they get arrested.”

st.john.smith@houstonchronicle.com

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