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HPD braces for cuts

More than $15 million is going to be cut from HPD’s budget, in part to lost red light camera revenue and in part to the overall budget picture.

The equivalent of more than 100 civilian jobs, including temporary workers, will be eliminated over two years through layoffs and attrition. Chief Charles McClelland has moved to cut overtime, delay two cadet classes, institute a hiring freeze for civilians and deploy officers to administrative duties previously completed by civilians.

Several signature programs of former Mayor Bill White, including SafeClear, a towing program used to clear roadways, and mobility response teams, which were deployed to ease traffic congestion, may be canceled or significantly revised, police and city officials said.

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Mayor Annise Parker insisted the cuts would not damage crime-fighting efforts.

“None of the cuts are going to impact public safety,” she said. “We are consolidating in every city department. … We are not laying off police officers, we are not laying off firefighters.”

City Councilman Mike Sullivan, who said he opposed more than $2 million in cuts to police overtime funding, disputed that claim.

“When you make cuts in the police budget, in staffing, overtime, investigative resources, it’s going to impact the crime rate,” he said. “It will go up. It’s just statistically a proven fact that when we reduce our resources to the police department, crime goes up.”

I don’t accept claims like that without actually seeing the statistics that are being cited to prove it. There’s no clear correlation between the number of police officers in a city and that city’s murder rate, for instance. Surely the Councilman knows someone who has access to, say, the last ten years’ worth of Houston crime data and HPD budget and personnel data. Throw it into an Excel spreadsheet, produce some charts, and then we can talk. It may well be that he’s correct, or it may be that in times of tight budgets HPD shifts its resources away from things that don’t actually have much effect on the crime rate. Who knows? What I’m saying is that this is all objective and testable, so let’s see some numbers.

And if it turns out that CM Sullivan is absolutely correct and that further cuts to HPD’s budget puts us at risk of a spike in the crime rate, we do always have the option of raising revenue so that we don’t have to force HPD to slash its budget. If maintaining some minimum level of staffing at HPD is such a priority, then shouldn’t we find a way to pay for it? And if we’re not willing to find a way to pay for it, then is it really a priority? I know, I know, everybody’s talking about cuts, and maybe there’s some other expenses that could be cut to make room in the budget for more HPD funding. I’m asking again, what is the minimum level of services we’re willing to accept, and how do we intend to pay for it? For that matter, what level of services do we actually want to have, and how do we intend to pay for that? We need to have that conversation before we can sensibly tackle these problems.

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