Chief McClelland is going to have to start answering them if he wants support for increasing HPD’s budget.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland last year asked City Council for $105 million over five years to hire hundreds of new officers, a request that came on the heels of a report that showed his department leaves thousands of cases uninvestigated because of lack of personnel.
Seven months after McClelland first sounded the alarm about staffing, he reminded City Council of the request at a budget hearing in May.
“We’re not in crisis in the sense that I’m saying that something bad, really, really bad is going to happen in this city if I don’t have more staffing immediately,” McClelland said. “But I can’t do the extra things when people call me up and say ‘Chief, can you put in more extra patrols in my neighborhood,’ there is no extra. It’s death by a thousand cuts. It’s just a slow, slow bleed.”
HPD has said current staffing levels have left the department struggling with quick response times to serious crimes, the ability to send two officers out on dangerous calls for service – a top priority for union leaders and a national best practice – and regularly performing traffic enforcement, among other challenges.
But McClelland’s plan is just that without political backing and significantly more funding, and he has picked up little of either heading into the fiscal year that starts July 1. Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed budget does not fully realize McClelland’s request, nor have most City Council members pushed for immediate action.
McClelland’s hiring plan calls for the city to fund five cadet classes per year for a projected net increase of 590 officers by 2020. Even that $105 million plan still would not produce the same citizens-per-officer ratio HPD had in 1998, nor would it staff the police academy to its maximum capacity of seven cadet classes per year, but it would be a start, the chief said.
The so-called Justex report HPD commissioned said that the city has about 5,300 officers to police a population of 2.2 million. That is less than half the size of the police force in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million with 11,900 officers. In Dallas, there are about 3,500 officers for 1.2 million residents. But experts caution that there is no magic police-to-population ratio – the geography and density of cities varies widely and so, too, do staffing needs.
Term-limited Parker said that because she will leave office at the end of the year, any mammoth investment in police personnel would best be left to her successor. She proposes to fund four cadet classes.
“I think that every council member understands exactly what the staffing issue is in police and fire, and I think everyone of us would like to see more officers hired,” Parker said. “But we also understand that in order to do that with the way the revenues are currently it would mean wholesale cuts in other programs. One third of our general fund budget – one third – goes straight to the Houston police department, so no one can say that we don’t prioritize public safety.”
Councilman C.O. Bradford, a former HPD chief, said he was sympathetic to neighborhood complaints and McClelland’s request. But he isn’t prepared to fund more HPD staff without first reviewing how officers are currently deployed, he said.
“It’s time they entered a paradigm shift,” Bradford said. “We have technology today that we didn’t back then. We need more foot and bike patrols. We should have officers doing that in neighborhoods and in places that are well suited for it. We still have a lot to talk about before we spend any more money.”
See here for some background. For once, I agree completely with CM Bradford. I’ve said this all before, so you know how I feel. I’ve yet to see Chief McClelland address any of the issues that plenty of people including myself have brought up. That’s the starting point for this discussion. When and if we get there, we can go from there. Until then, I do not support spending more money on HPD.