HPD Lt. Dougherty, HCSO Capt. Summerlin dusted off and revised an old plan destined to streamline the way we incarcerate prisoners

Tom Kennedy

For decades, the City of Houston and Harris County have made any number of futile attempts to eliminate redundancy and save thousands of man hours by creating a one-stop-shop for the prisoner booking process in a jail run by the sheriff.

Over those many years police and sheriff agendas clashed and it was relatively easy to fall back on the fact that neither the Houston Police Department nor the Harris County Sheriff’s Office had the necessary budget to consolidate jail operations.

The two law enforcement agencies and their respective budgeteers – the county fathers and city fathers and mothers – finally put it all together. The record shows some good chemistry had a lot to do with the success story.

Procedural Conflicts

“Harris County and HPD didn’t talk to each other back in the 80s,” HPD Lt. Patrick L. Dougherty pointed out. “We were always on the same page but we weren’t talking to each other.”

“A lot of it was procedural. Who’s running the place? Who’s going to run this meeting?”

No one from the department knows this history better than Dougherty. A graduate of HPD Academy Class No. 99, he’s been with the department since 1981. Since 1992, his primary job has been to keep the city jail operating as best practice in policy, procedure, training, and the development of a centrally located joint inmate processing center with the sheriff’s office.

Count them. That’s 23 years of frustration and patience but, most importantly, determination.

Police Chief Charles “Chuck” McClelland, Jr. singled out Dougherty for his work when he spoke at the Oct. 27 ground breaking of the Joint Processing Center at 700 North San Jacinto in the downtown detention zone.

The chief credited the lieutenant with the development of the idea and its innovative “open booking” approach to processing prisoners into what Dougherty calls “the state-of-the-art processing center of tomorrow” that replaces the time-consuming redundant process of today.

If all goes according to plan, for HPD that tomorrow begins in March 2018. By that approximate date, the building will be finished with the county expected to have it broken-in after processing its own prisoners during an initial period of adjustment and transition.

After many stops and starts since 2001, Dougherty said the slow but careful steps that led to this joint agreement started to take hold most recently in 2011. A lot of it had to do with the good chemistry and friendships.

Consider, for instance, that Dougherty got to know current HCSO Major Steve Marino when Marino was an HPD patrol sergeant and later as a lieutenant assigned to the Central Jail in the early 1990s. Dougherty wound up succeeding Marino as Administrative Lieutenant in the jail. Both men have always had the strong desire to streamline the way the department processes inmates.

Marino is now with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and serves as a major in charge of the Justice Management Bureau that oversees the county jail intake operation.

Then along came veteran HCSO Capt. Greg Summerlin, who as a lieutenant worked with Dougherty staring in 2001 and now reports to Assistant Chief Todd Montefusco.

It can truly be said that the two law enforcement officers, albeit from different agencies, work together like long time partners on a police beat. Their “beat” is detention. They have studied the best and worst of inmate processing centers all across the nation. They incorporated the best into the new JPC and ensured the errors made by others were avoided.

“As part of a team that included expert consultants and highly skilled architects, Pat and I played a major role in the design the new building,” Summerlin said, emphasizing they did it with the best interests of law enforcement officers in mind. Summerlin praised the hard work and dedication of his Capital Improvement team which consists of Sergeant Sisto DeLeon, Deputy Felicia Hood and Deputy Jessica Smith.

Neither is trying to be boastful when discussing their work. They do emphasize the fact they believe the new facility will fit the precise needs of officers and deputies who want fast, efficient processing where they can return to duty as soon as possible.

Such has not been the case in the recent history of HPD and HCSO due to antiquated facilities and operational redundancy. Lt. Dougherty stated “The truth is both agencies would have had to replace their facilities. Instead, we are only building one joint facility. The taxpayers win.”

Renewed Spirit and Cooperation

Many in each agency have wanted to build one jail as early as the 1980s and early 1990s.

Dougherty has worked with two mayors – Bill White and then Annise Parker – and three police chiefs – Clarence Bradford, Harold Hurtt, and McClelland on this project. He credits each of them with being very supportive, especially Parker.

“On the HPD side, I was the lead with several captains involved over the years,” Dougherty recalled. “These captains were R. Montgomery (retired), Mark Holloway, Paul Follis, and Collin Weatherly. I can say all of us really worked well with our Harris County counterparts.”

Both he and Summerlin referred to their effort as a “team” that included not just commissioned officers and deputies, but key civilians as well.

“Kevin Seat, a deputy director at the Harris County Budget Office, was also a team member from the beginning and I came to know him very well. He and HPD Chief Financial Officer Joe Fenninger worked out the financial documents and had a very good relationship,” the lieutenant explained.

“This project would not have been possible without a mutually acceptable financial agreement and the support of Sheriff Ron Hickman and Harris County Commissioners Court” Summerlin said. “The financial details were very difficult. The bean counters were in a lot of meetings together.”

The city passed a bond election to pay its share of the costs. The county was not successful in its first attempt to pass a bond for the project. Its first effort failed in November 2007, but the second bond attempt – for millions of dollars less – gained voter approval in November 2013.

Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer under Mayor Parker, and Bill Jackson, the executive director of the Harris County Budget Office, were very supportive and helped to turn the corner and led to a fruitful joint venture between the city and the county.

Capt. Summerlin also cited some names of predecessors and mentors. He named Major Mike Smith, a member of the command staff under Sheriff Tommy Thomas, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and now Sheriff Ron Hickman. “He was a driving force and envisioned a one-stop shop for prisoner processing,” the captain said. Besides Mike Smith, Summerlin credited Assistant Chief Todd Montefusco, who was involved in the project since 2003, as another strong advocate in the years-long effort to accomplish this project.

The more the cast of characters grew the more the two coordinators thought about the list. “The executive assistant chiefs were supportive and followed the project as the executive in charge,” Dougherty explained. They were Dennis Storemski, Martha Montalvo, Tim Oettmeier and George Buenik and Assistant Chiefs John Chen and Mark Curran and retired Assistant Chief Milton Simmons.

Parker’s Jail Legacy

 

All told, these devotees of law and order and the detention process that forms the bedrock of today’s criminal justice system can finally say they weathered the storm fraught with competing agendas and conflicts among city and county governments and achieved a worthy purpose.

Who knows if Mayor Parker ever figured her legacy after a total of 18 years’ service in elective city offices would include an achievement none of her predecessors for the last 40 years ever achieved.

In this context, she was eloquent at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Joint Processing Center that will finally get HPD out of the jail business.

She said:

“We have been laboring in an old and outmoded system, with old and outmoded jails, for a number of years.

“The plans for this have been dusted off five or six times. For whatever reason, we don’t finish the conversation to get to a resolution and a contract agreement.

“Well, we finally made it to the finish line.”

Ultimately Dougherty and Summerlin dusted off a plan, polished it up, and helped bring to fruition a project that seemed unattainable for years. And they became great friends in the process, both living on the county’s northeast side. “We even play poker together,” one said.

It can be said they both won this hand.