The Chron asks a reasonable question about the promises being made by the Mayoral candidates to hire more police officers.
The deep fiscal slowdown facing the city will make it difficult to fund more police academy classes, a factor that has played an important role in Houston crime trends, said Tom Kennedy, a former Houston Post journalist who is co-writing a history of the Houston Police Department.
Financial considerations about policing are “unquestionably” as important as crime-fighting policy plans, he said, noting that police chiefs since the 1950s have been urging mayors and City Council members to increase the number of officers.
“They’ve all had the same reaction: ‘We agree with you, but where’s the money?’ ” said Kennedy, whose book was commissioned by the police union and is co-authored by Sam Houston State University Professor Mitchell Roth. “It has never been done, and it’s not just because of mixed priorities. It’s because you just can’t put together the funding.”
I’ve been wondering the same thing, as you know. And I’ll say again, I don’t think you can really approach this without having an honest conversation about revenues and what the appropriate level of taxation needs to be to pay for these needed services, now and in the future. And we’re getting that from any of the candidates right now.
Morales, who has promised to cut property taxes, said he will find inefficiencies in every city department through audits and will be able to put some of the savings toward the police budget.
Parker, who has promised not to cut the police budget or overtime, also said she would try to find inefficiencies. She singled out the city’s purchase of a new helicopter fleet for HPD, saying the number of helicopters could be reduced from 16 to eight.
Locke said the department could use money saved by combining its jailing operations with Harris County’s, an idea Parker shares. He said he may roll out other ideas when he unveils his overall plan for fighting crime.
Brown said he is committed to adding a police academy class in his first year, which would make three — still fewer than the average of five a year during Mayor Bill White’s administration. To pay for it, he suggested using money from the city’s projected $230 million surplus.
Kennedy said many mayors have come and gone in Houston’s history without finding a solution to the problem of police staffing.
“If I had a nickel for every time” a politician said they would pay for more police with “efficiencies, I’d be a rich man,” Kennedy said. “History shows the money has been there, but it’s never enough.”
Remember the Grace Commission, Ronald Reagan’s grand plan to eliminate “waste, fraud, and abuse” from the federal budget? It was one part real findings of actual inefficiencies, one part highlighting politically popular things that could be targeted if one was willing to put up a huge fight (military base closings were a prime example), and one part a laundry list of government programs that the authors (and the president who commissioned them) didn’t like and thus classified as “waste” as a means of generating political pressure on their supporters. It ultimately amounted to very little, but it did spawn a movement and a mantra that plagues us to this day. I’m sorry, but eliminating waste isn’t a revenue stream. We’re not going to pay for a police academy class by finding inefficiencies; even if we could, we wouldn’t be able to pay for that class’ graduates going forward. Maybe once we accept that, we can figure out a workable solution. Greg has more.