I see a lot of merit in this.
After-school programs prevent crime, Councilman C.O. Bradford said, so some of them should be paid for by the police.
“This sounds strange to hear a gun-packing, badge-toting, 24-year cop talking about this,” said Bradford, Houston’s former police chief, but he proposes hiring 20 fewer police officers in the coming year and using the savings to put nearly 2,000 more children into homework clubs, sports, scholarship coaching and museum tours.
The Houston Police Department plans to conduct three 70-member cadet academies in the coming year to replace those who retire or resign from the 5,300-member force. Bradford said having 10 fewer cadets in two of the classes could save the city $1.6 million, enough to put an entire large middle school’s worth of children into activities each weekday afternoon.
“Nobody’s going to miss an additional 10 officers spread over 640-plus square miles,” he said Tuesday.
The area’s after-school advocates have turned to Bradford as the front man for their sociological strategy over an exclusively lock-‘em-up approach to public safety.
The Harris County Department of Education, the Houston Endowment and others interested in expanding the offerings appointed Bradford chairman of their after-school enrichment consortium.
The group, which goes by the acronym ENRICH, is rounding up research that documents correlations between after-school programs and lower crime rates. It also is tallying available funding for county programs, which it reports is $63 million a year in mostly federal money. It is on Bradford’s own initiative that he is seeking police funding to serve more kids.
The story notes that HPD Chief Charles McClelland is not on board with this, Mayor Parker has expressed some support but is not backing it, and several Council members including CM Ellen Cohen ran on platforms that included support for increasing the size of the police academy classes. Certainly, in all the interviews I did in 2011, I can’t recall anyone expressing a contrary opinion about hiring more cops. In other words, CM Bradford has a tough row to hoe. But I think he’s onto something, and I hope people listen to him. As with many things, prevention is less costly and more effective than mitigation. Crime rates have been declining across the board for years, which should make us question what the “right” size of HPD should be. I’d like to know if there’s some research to back up this proposition. We should learn more about this, and we should be willing to consider it as another tool in the crimefighting box.