July 05, 2005
Aiyer on Public Safety
JayForHouston.com :: Houston's Public Safety Crisis
Now THIS is what I'm talking about ... I've staked my claim as a supporter of Jay Aiyer for City Council from the get-go. The biggest part of this was due to the depth that Jay is willing to get into to address local issues, and this entry demonstrates the case rather vividly:
Why have we not trained more new officers? Cost -- it currently costs the city of Houston $2.8 million for a cadet class of 70. That number doubles when the overall cost of operations of the Police Academy is factored in. Fiscal reality makes any dramatic increase in training difficult under our current system.
There is an answer to this problem.
Currently, the Houston Community College System (HCCS) provides most of the continuing education training for HPD. It also trains new officers for most area law enforcement agencies at a far smaller cost per-officer than HPD.
As an educational entity, HCCS receives state and federal allocations that lower its training costs. HCCS’s core mission is education—training is what it does best. The City of Houston is not in the education business.
HCCS has proposed and is moving ahead with a new Public Safety Academy for the region, partnering with other area law enforcement agencies. It is the smartest option to provide state of the art law enforcement training at the lowest cost, and the City of Houston should join the partnership.
HCCS will train top-quality new officers at its Academy, while saving Houstonians millions in tax dollars. Moreover, it will provide HPD badly needed access to the students that comprise the recruitment base for future police officers.
We need a new approach on public safety, and a partnership to train new officers is a real solution for a very real problem. Solving the problem will require a willingness at City Hall to change direction. Let’s hope City officials are willing—the public’s safety depends on it.
Far from just being resolved to be supportive of more cops on the street, far from just running on a platform of seeking out ways to pay for the same, Jay just spells out a case for doing so at an effective cost, and that partners with the most effective resources to get the mission accomplished.
This specific issue is but one tangent of an earlier Op-Ed of Jay's that was published in the Chronicle. The Public Safety Academy concept ought to be stolen by every candidate hitting the hustings, but let's not forget which candidate is pushing it the hardest.
Posted by Greg Wythe on July 05, 2005 to Election 2005
Training costs aren't the real problem, of course. It's paying for officers' salaries year in and year out if the police force added as many additional officers as Aiyers implies he wants. Because of fixed costs, per-candidate costs would go down if Houston could afford to commit to hiring more cadets. That low volume contributes to the relatively high cost. Using the community college may or may not be a good idea, but training costs aren't the main barrier to hiring more officers.
Call me crazy for asking, but is it really in the public's best interest to essentially privatize police and fire academies? Shouldn't we leave the training to the experts instead of churning out classes to fill a shortfall?? The main reason there is a public safety crisis is because people insist on TAX CUTS. The majority of the city budget goes to public safety. There is a serious disconnect going on. Another thing, HCCS Trustees are people who have reputations for shakedowns and dishonest behavior. Do we really want to entrust those clowns with training our fire and police personnel? I smell lots of no-bid scandals brewing....
I wouldn't say it's privatization - let's distinguish between outsourcing and privatization - but I am left wondering what the compelling rationale is.
I don't mind the idea of pooling resources among agencies and jurisdictions (e.g., the suburbs). What I do mind is the idea that you can do all this "on the cheap."
I can't call myself an expert on public safety, but I did once have the wonderful experience of spending a day interviewing the head of the Austin firefighting school. If Houston's police and firefighting academies are anything like Austin's, then there's simply a lot of stuff that just can't be outsourced.
The bottom line for all of this has got to be measured in the proficiency and professionalism of our police and firefighters, not in dollars and cents. I think most voters are willing to balance the scales in favor of (slightly) higher taxes if it means less risk and more effective public services. And a cynic certainly could say that Jay Aiyer is proposing to:
(a) cut the budget for police and firefighter training; and
(b) ship the operation off to be done in a way which has not yet proven to be reliable.
If that's a cynic's view, than a cynic really hasn't been paying much attention to the HPD's manpower shortage.
Aiyer is the only candidate for council -- including incumbents -- to recognize the problem and to propose solutions.
I have no ties to Aiyer, but I think he would object to the notion he wants to cut the public safety training budget. I think what he's proposing is getting the maximum police/fire protection out of the dollars we're willing to spend.
If a cynic wants to address why Mayor White and his council don't want to tackle this issue, that would be great. Cynics who simply attack people who recognize problems and propose solutions for debate aren't really contributing much to the debate.