On hiring more cops

Not as easy to do as you might think.

Halfway through his inaugural speech, Houston Mayor John Whitmire said the city made it far too hard for people to join the Houston Police Department.

As an example, Whitmire pointed out that new cadets have to buy their own service weapons, which can cost $1,000. He said he would convince private donors to pick up the tab.

Whitmire’s pledge echoed a key campaign platform plank: To reverse a years-long slide in the size of the city’s police force.

While paying for guns may eliminate one barrier, more obstacles stand in the way, ranging from low cadet pay to waning interest in policing as a profession. Big cities nationwide have for years struggled to attract and retain cops despite aggressive recruiting tactics, such as $30,000 hiring incentives.

Whitmire, a former chair of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has yet to release a detailed plan for boosting the size of the Houston Police Department. Experts said he may find his promise to improve on his predecessor Sylvester Turner’s record easier said than done.

“It’s difficult everywhere,” said Jeff Asher, a nationally cited crime data analyst who once worked for the New Orleans Police Department. “It’s hard to hire police officers nationwide, no matter how committed to it you are.”


Whitmire has promised to mount a hands-on approach to police recruiting that will include listening to cops’ concerns and raising their pay.

At a Thursday press conference, he said he would be visiting academy classes next week to discuss what obstacles cadets had to overcome to join the department.

He also promised to boost officer pay. When asked how, he said the city was in the process of auditing every department to find waste.

Even with a roughly $400 million fund balance left over from Turner, Whitmire could face annual budget gaps of up to $268 million, at the same time that federal pandemic relief funds run out.

“Let me just tell you, we’re going to do whatever it takes,” Whitmire said Thursday. “After we cut out duplication and waste and conflicts of interest, if we don’t have enough to keep people safe, we will go back to the public to tell them we need additional resources.”

The city is under a voter-imposed revenue cap that limits how much tax money it can take in without asking the public to approve more. Whitmire said he might explore creating a public safety district, which would establish a separate taxing authority to generate dedicated revenue for police.


In Houston, advocates have called on the city to expand alternatives to policing, such as the crisis call diversion program.

Critics also note that crime already is trending down in Houston and many other big cities. Homicides were on pace to drop 20 percent in Houston last year compared to 2022, steeper than a national decline of 10 percent, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Dustin Rynders, legal director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he would rather see city officials take a hard look at how officers are spending their time, pointing to a recent study by his organization that examined the amount of non-safety traffic stops that Houston police performed in 2022.

“I support the goal of public safety, but we do that by being targeted in what kind of policing we do, and by funding services that get to the underlying causes of crime,” Rynders said. “I haven’t heard any specifics on what the plan is for the new officers, or where their money is going to come from, or where it’s going to be taken from.”

There’s a lot here, so let me bullet-point a few things. Please note that I drafted this before the announcement about maybe merging Metro’s police force with HPD, which is an interesting and clever idea but doesn’t greatly affect any of the points I made below.

– Cities are facing an even more competitive market for hiring cops because now they are also competing with school districts and charter schools thanks to a legislative mandate. On the plus side, this mandate is largely unfunded, so the competition isn’t as fierce as it could be. The point is, law enforcement officers and those who want to be law enforcement officers have a lot more options now.

– Just for that alone, there’s a strong argument for various crisis call diversion programs, like Harris County’s HART or the aforementioned HPD program. These programs should be much more easily scalable, they take cops away from situations where they’re not the best solution and which the cops themselves would rather avoid, they cost less, and there’s already a lot of evidence of their effectiveness. Really, this should be a high priority, and it fulfills the goal of having more cops deployed to fight crime even if it’s not just hiring more uniformed officers.

– The push to hire more cops and the pressure to find them wherever you can is a reminder that there are a lot of bad cops out there in this state with 2800 law enforcement agencies, and they tend to have no trouble getting hired somewhere else after being run out of a previous agency or town. Don’t lower standards or abandon strong background checks, is what I’m saying.

– The whole “scrubbing the budget” baloney evokes the most massive eyerolls, but I suppose Mayor Whitmire believes he has to go through the motions to convince the public that creating new revenue streams, in whatever form, is the only way. I’m not sure I actually buy that’s what he’s doing, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. If the end result is a modification or removal of the revenue cap, most if not all will be forgiven. Along those lines, I don’t know what a “public safety district” is or how it would work, but again if it’s a new revenue source then I at least like where he’s going.

– Ultimately, I endorse what Dustin Rynders is saying. Focus on solving the crimes, which means make sure that the cops are being deployed in a sensible and effective manner. And do pursue those inter-agency cooperation ideas. At least those cops are locally accountable and don’t require misplaced trust.

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One Response to On hiring more cops

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    On a road trip I saw a billboard for Plano PD $102,000. I might apply to HPD, and I will just use a revolver, if they want me to use one of my guns. Police used revolvers back in the 1900s, just watch Dirty Harry.

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