A Houston Chronicle analysis shows that most of the money — $50 million — went to the Houston Police Department, long bedeviled by staffing shortages while trying to cover the nation’s fourth largest city. At the Houston Fire Department, the cost was $17 million, largely for the same reasons.
“We’re going to have to be more efficient,” said newly-installed Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland.
The hefty price tag for the city’s fire and police department overtime will be among those scrutinized when Mayor Annise Parker and her chiefs huddle this year to try to cover an expected $100 million citywide deficit.
“Overtime’s definitely on the table,” Parker said.
As everyone knows, public safety is by far the biggest piece of the city’s budget, and reducing overtime costs is a way to reduce expenditures without having to cut staff. In fact, as we know from the Sheriff’s situation, strategically adding staff, especially civilian staff for administrative positions, would result in a net savings for the city. Everyone is aware of the need to put more police officers on the street, and every candidate talked about that during the 2009 campaign, so I’d expect this to happen.
The Sheriff’s office is also responsible for jailers, and as such one way they can cut operating expenses is to reduce the number of inmates they have to handle. That isn’t as much an issue for HPD, but adopting a policy of issuing citations for certain low level offenses instead of making arrests would be a good idea for them to consider. Doing so allows cops to stay on duty on the streets longer, as they no longer have to take the time to transport offenders to jail and then get themselves back to their beats, and has the ancillary benefit of decreasing the inmate population. It’s a win all around, and it might help avoid ad hoc solutions.