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Those uninvestigated criminal cases

To say the least, this is big news.

The Houston Police Department, already reeling from a scandal involving shoddy work in its homicide unit, was dealt another blow Monday when a report revealed that some 20,000 burglary, theft, assault and hit-and-run cases with workable leads were not investigated in 2013.

The authors of the city-commissioned study surveyed HPD division commanders who revealed “excessively high numbers of cases with leads that were not investigated in 2013 due to a lack of personnel.”

The report noted that 15,000 burglaries and thefts, 3,000 assaults and nearly 3,000 hit-and-runs were not investigated last year. The data was based on monthly HPD management reports of cases with workable leads.

The study’s findings arrived at a critical time for HPD. The Houston Chronicle on Sunday reported on almost two dozen homicide cases dating back a decade that were barely investigated by HPD detectives. That scandal erupted earlier in the year when eight detectives were disciplined for their lack of work on the cases.

HPD Chief Charles McClelland had not completed reading the new 200-page study late Monday, but is expected to comment in the next day or two, said spokesman John Cannon.

[…]

The $150,000 study released Monday was conducted by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum and Justex Systems Inc., a consulting firm co-directed by Larry Hoover, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

It was requested by City Councilman and former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford in July 2010, but was delayed by the city’s recent budget shortage.

“When we have tens of thousands of cases with solvability factors, with leads, where suspects could be arrested, that simply shouldn’t be happening in the city,” Bradford said. “I am not shocked, because we don’t have the personnel to do it.” Bradford said he favors hiring 1,500 new officers, but said 800 – at a cost of $80 million – would be a starting point. HPD currently has 5,100 officers

Mayor Annise Parker said her administration has taken a number of steps to have more of the city’s officers investigating crimes, but added that “massive” funding is on the horizon.

“We investigate everything we have the capacity to investigate,” Parker said. “We need more police officers. The only way we can have more police officers is to have more tax revenue to pay for them. We have done an extraordinarily good job of utilizing every resource, putting more officers back on the street, doing all these really innovative things to maximize it, but ultimately, that’s just kept us treading water.”

A copy of the large report is here. I’m sure a lot of people will be reading it. I’ll get to it as I can in my copious free time.

The main thing to come out of this is likely to be calls for hiring more officers. With a Mayoral election on the horizon, you can hear the calls already. I’m just going to say this for now, and bear in mind that I haven’t read the report yet. I’m sure that there are some deadweight members of HPD just as we recently learned there were in the Homicide division. I’m sure that in the nine-figure Public Safety budget there are some questionable expenditures and opportunities for optimization, especially since that part of the budget has been basically untouchable despite the recent shortfalls. But I’m also sure that we’re not going to efficiency our way to a solution here. Whether you think HPD needs 1,500 new officers or could get by just fine with some smaller number of new hires, doing that kind of hiring is going to cost a lot of money. How exactly do we plan to pay for that? Even without the near-term bumps in the road that we face, and even if you believe that the non-Public Safety portion of the budget still has some readily identifiable waste in it after the great cutbacks of 2010, we don’t have $80 million plus lying around to spend on increasing HPD’s workforce. I don’t see how you can get there without at least rolling back the Bill White property tax rate cuts, if not raising the rate beyond that. Politicians love to talk about making “tough decisions”, well, here’s one that someone needs to make. I will take proposals to add staff to HPD seriously when I see an accompanying proposal for how to pay for it. Calling for solutions is easy. Coming up with solutions, then fighting for them if they’re not immediately received with hurrahs and hosannas, that’s what separates the contenders from the pretenders. Lisa Falkenberg has more.

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3 Comments

  1. Steven Houston says:

    Bradford is full of it if he thinks anyone is buying his disingenuous attempts to distance himself from the staffing issue given he was chief for years and on their command staff even longer. Since the early 1980’s HPD has been under staffed compared to other departments, especially considering the multitude of efforts to embrace “neighborhood oriented policing” (NOP), the move championed by Mayor Kathy Whitmire on through to Parker. It was stated back at the beginning that to achieve the goals of NOP would require Houston to have a minimum of 9000 officers, a level hard to achieve when Whitmire closed their police academy for the better part of three years.

    Even after dumping the majority of NOP programs as Bradford did before he retired into politics, he was told time and again that far more staff was needed, his own budget experts telling council members during those yearly budget hearings of the limitations with existing manpower. So none of this was a secret to anyone paying attention and the 20k cases mentioned are not built up over the years like the rape kits were, those were just in the past year since every year has many thousands of cases that are left wanting for manpower to work them. They can wring their hands and act surprised but I assure you it is ALL an act because every council office has received numerous calls regarding citizens upset that little or no action was taken on cases, those that complain loud enough sometimes getting an officer assigned for a short term.

    But more people are retiring from HPD than are being hired, hundreds of officers listed in “official” numbers actually in a status called “phase down” where they use their accumulated time and do not work since it is easier on the city budget than paying them. Further, pension cuts and benefit cuts to new employees have made Houston the low cost leader of big city police departments, even cities in Texas (notorious for lower pay) paying better and offering substantially better pensions. That recent class that should have had 75 cadets had 30, now down to 25 and shrinking as cadets flunk out, is being followed by a class where the numbers look better until you look at them closely. The city is offering a bonus to new cadets AS WELL AS lowering standards to take people they previously refused or did not qualify because the city just cannot compete.

    So you not only have the issue with the staffing being so low that basic services are cut on the sly, Houston known for crime being under reported given long term treatment of investigations, but also one with mounting pension debt. Since HPD is already the poorest paying big city department in the country and offers one of the smallest pensions, further cuts will only make matters worst. Mayor Parker can claim major revenues to pay for all this are on the horizon but someone just might want to ask her the source because the feds are not going to bail the city out, nor is the state, and even if the revenue cap was removed and those micro-cuts to rates completely restored, it would not come close to being enough. Contrary to what the ultra right wing types out there are claiming, you can cut every other discretionary city function out of the operating budget other than related matters like HFD and it will not be enough to cover the need so get ready to make some tough choices. You don’t currently pay enough to find enough qualified people and the talk of further pension cuts scares away many from the military or other states from even bothering.

  2. Robert Goerlitz says:

    That is just a drop in the bucket if that is the total cases not investigated. The Harris County Sheriffs Office had almost 13,000 cases that were unable to be investigated just in family violence alone. That isn’t even counting robberies, theft, sexual assaults, fraud, etc. Count yourselves lucky for having so few in total.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Funny, HPD seems to have plenty of officers to harass truckers and motorists. Car theft, burglary or assault?

    HPD: Meh. Not interested.

    Going 75 in a 60? Tail light out?

    HPD: Freeze, dirtbag!

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