Harris County, Texas is a vibrant and bustling county with a population of approximately 4.1 million, making it the third most populous county in the United States. It is home to the city of Houston and several other neighboring communities, and was named after John Richardson Harris, one of the area's first settlers. The Kinder Institute for Urban Research's Houston Area Asian Survey revealed that between 1990 and 2000, Harris County's Asian population increased by an impressive 76%. Economically, Harris County, along with other Texas counties, has one of the highest property tax rates in the country.
In addition, many public and private hospitals operate in Harris County, including institutions at the Texas Medical Center and throughout the county. The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office is responsible for protecting the county's citizens and property from fire and other disasters. It has an Investigation Branch, an Emergency Response Branch (Response to Hazardous Materials), and a Prevention Branch (Inspections). Harris County is also home to several private institutions of higher education, from liberal arts schools to nationally recognized research universities. The department maintains the 20-acre (8.1 ha) Oates Road cemetery (also known as the Harris County Cemetery) for the homeless in East Houston, near the old Southern Bible College. The City of Houston operates Ellington Field, a military and general aviation airport in Harris County.
Many of the organs of Harris County government reside on the Harris County campus in downtown Houston. It is included in the Houston—The Woodlands-Sugar Land Metropolitan Statistical Area, comprised of nine counties, which is the fifth-most populated metropolitan area in the United States. The Harris and Galveston County Criminal District Court began in 1867 and lasted until 1911, when each county created its own criminal court. Harris County is serviced by the Harris County, Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), a public transportation agency headquartered in downtown Houston. If Harris County's two state jails for men are full, excessive offenders go to the Jefferson County Essential Unit.