UPDATE: (10:45 a.m. Jan. 30) - The Harris County Sheriff's Office responded to this story today with a statement saying that undercover deputies will be exempt from the photo session. Their statement is below.
"Even though you alluded to the deputies’ organization’s concerns in an e-mail last Thursday -- in the midst of national breaking news concerning the Lone Star College shooting and the Sheriff’s Office -- we were unaware of the specific concerns voiced to you until today," said Harris County Sheriff's Office Director of Public Affairs Alan Bernstein. "We have not seen the organization’s news release. Also, as far as we can tell, the organization did not voice or send or write its concerns to Sheriff Garcia despite the numbers ways it can do so.
Most important, undercover officers have always been exempt from the photo requirement. However if a deputy works an approved “extra job” in uniform, they are not truly undercover."
ORIGINAL STORY: Members of the Harris County Deputies Organization (HCDO) are upset with a mandatory request from Sheriff Adrian Garcia, calling it a public relations grab that ignores officer safety.
Garcia sent a memo out to department staffers last week notifying them of a mandatory policy, requiring them to have a photo taken for the department's yearbook, commemorating the department's 175th anniversary.
HCDO President Robert Goerlitz said the policy could put deputies at risk, especially those that serve in undercover positions.
"We don't know who is getting copies of these yearbooks," Goerlitz said. "If drug cartels get one, they can scan pictures and put them into facial recognition databases. This is a public relations thing for the sheriff and it could cost lives."
Harris County Sheriff's Office officials responded to a request to comment on the issue by sending the Tribune a copy of Garcia's memo.
"As you are all aware, the Sheriff's Office is working feverishly towards completing our 175th anniversary yearbook," the memo states.
It goes on to say that a special yearbook committee has only been able to secure about half of the department employees pictures.
"In an effort to assist the Yearbook Committee's efforts and help facilitate the completion of this project, I am requiring all personnel who have not yet had their yearbook portraits taken to schedule an appointment to have their portrait photo taken during the next scheduled photo session this coming February," the memo states. “The intent of my instruction is to reach 100% employee participation so that all personnel are properly represented and duly recognized for their continuing commitment to their communities and for their loyal service to the Sheriff's Office."
"The problem is that the administration is requiring 100 percent participation," said Goerlitz. "A lot of these guys are currently or may work undercover in the future. It's a safety issue."
Goerlitz said that in the past, deputies have been allowed to mask their identities in photos; something he said that administrators say is not an option this time.
"The response we have gotten from them is that if it is too dangerous to have a picture taken then it is too dangerous for deputies to have jobs outside the department," he said.
"Our job function is inherently dangerous without creating additional risks," he added. "This most certainly creates undue risk that the safety of not only the deputy will be compromised, but that of their family as well."