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Turner’s police plan

Time to look at a major policy proposal, from Mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner unveiled a plan Thursday to expand the Houston Police Department by 540 officers by 2020, an effort he said is needed to help police better engage the communities they serve and to improve trust between some neighborhoods and the department.

Turner said he would pay for the estimated $85 million “Partners in Safety” plan by seeking, “as quickly as I can,” voter approval to alter the city’s decade-old revenue cap to allow more public safety spending.

[…]

In his announcement, Turner did not criticize Police Chief Charles McClelland or term-limited Mayor Annise Parker’s management, but he said the city’s police officers are stretched too thin to exit their patrol cars and do the sort of engagement that is needed.

“In the last several years, the enemy to community policing has been the lack of resources,” Turner said. “When you have 5,300 police officers and that number has remained stagnant over the last 10 years, more people coming into the city, the city’s even more diverse, it’s very difficult to have effective and adequate community policing.”

The department employed 5,470 officers in 1998, and is projected to operate this budget year with about 5,260, despite enormous population growth during that time.

Turner’s proposal also includes fully funding the body camera initiative, the first phase of which is scheduled to launch this year, along with enhanced cultural and de-escalation training for officers, greater public input and more youth outreach efforts. Turner also backs offering police officers, as well as firefighters and municipal workers, incentives to live inside city limits. A similar proposal to lure officers to high-crime neighborhoods is being developed by the Parker administration.

You can see the full plan here. I like the community engagement and de-escalation training aspects of it, and I support the body-cameras-for-all aspect. I’m glad that it at least acknowledges the noninvestigations report, but I still want to see my questions get addressed before I get on board with any expansion of HPD. The amount of money Turner says will be needed to achieve this expansion is $20 million less than what Chief McClelland asked for, which he says can be done by eliminating reassignments, overtime, and some other costs.

As far as amending the revenue cap to help pay for this, I’ll note that the cap hit this year is $53 million, so there’s still a gap to cover, at a time when other action will be needed to deal with forthcoming budget shortfalls. (As you know, I’d like to see the revenue cap lifted entirely, but I freely admit that amending it to pay for cops is a much easier sell.) I want to see a comprehensive review of HPD’s (and HFD’s) budget to see what savings might be achieved there before we talk about any expansions there or cuts elsewhere. We greatly increased the size of HPD in the 90s under Bob Lanier because crime rates had been increasing nationally for thirty years. Since then, crime has been on a 20-year decline, and violent crime around the country is at its lowest levels in 50 years. No one could have known that was about to happen in the 90s, but we know where we are now. How many cops do we really need? What do we really want them to focus on? I appreciate Turner’s effort – there’s a lot there that I do like – but I’m still waiting for these questions to be part of the discussion.

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8 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    I share all of your concerns, including the “I can do it cheaper” part. Candidly it seems like the old “tuff-on-crime” outreach to conservatives for votes. Do some of those kind of conservatives who read and comment here ever buy this package from a Democrat? Serious question.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    Given compensation well below other major cities, even with the recent pay raise for new employees, they will be hard pressed to find that many who are qualified under existing rules. That said, the only way to lower the cost in the first few years would be to start hiring them later on in the five year plan, the cost of retaining those officers after that quickly escalating as their step raises and other incentives kick in. By year 12, the cost of those same officers will be far greater even with the reduced pension they will get.

    As a centrist rather than die hard, Hero hating conservative, I suspect Turner means well and is earnest in his beliefs but first prioritizing existing manpower and restructuring how it is used would work better in the long run. That his plan suggests dumping the city crime lab to save money is the only new item on the list because each of the community outreach programs has been done for years, the cameras have been on the list for expansion, the paying officers to live in the city tackled by the mayor and council, etc.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    I like Sylvester Turner. I have financially supported him in prior races for Mayor. He has been on the right side of a lot of issues that I care about. Red Light Camera, Court Reporters in the Municipal Court and a lot of other bills that he helped kill. The man even returned my phone call when I was a young lawyer. He is a good politician.

    I don’t care what his stance is on HERO it doesn’t control my vote. However on a side note how is he going to approach voters on a change in the Rev. Cap. if Wilson’s Charter amendment gets on the ballot and passes.

    HMMMMM????

    Maybe he can get….

    ANDY TAYLOR

    to represent the City and Sue someone that will allow the City to do whatever it wants to do.

    I agree with Kuffner when he says….

    I want to see a comprehensive review of HPD’s (and HFD’s) budget to see what savings might be achieved there before we talk about any expansions there or cuts elsewhere.

    For you see I seem to remember when HPD didn’t have Bicycle Officers or a mounted division. For example how productive are these officers? I know they are not lazy but are they put in a position where they are not doing Police work? Two things don’t lie…arrest records and the scale.

    🙂

  4. Steven Houston says:

    PK, I think those that do the budgeting fall into the category of “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing” a bit too often.

    Both Mounted and the bike guys have long been extremely popular with city council members, there being no real substitute for crowd control than the mounted and fans of community policing adoring seeing (usually) fit officers in tight bike shorts riding around. As I recall, some of the bike squads were exceptionally “productive” if you consider writing tickets to qualify, I haven’t looked at their latest budget to know if they are still big on such displays of public affection.

    If you are going to analyze an organization though, decide ahead of time what you want as measurement metrics rather than fit the existing numbers to make it look like someone is busy. Then decide the weight of each metric before going crazy. Off the top of my head, it would make sense to hire scores of civilians at a third the cost to handle office work and supervisor those types rather than have classified fire and police continue to do them. That study said so too, by all means read it. 😉

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    i have never known Bike officers to be big producers (i guess that is based on how you define productive) and yes I do consider writing tickets to qualify as being productive. (Call me greedy)

    Also I totally agree with you about hiring civilians and I have not read the study but you are right I should. Just so much to do and so little time to do it.

  6. Mainstream says:

    I don’t think voters will amend the revenue cap, even if the argument is that it would allow more police funding. Voters who oppose raising the revenue cap also hold the view that much city spending is wasted, and would not agree that police funding can only be increased by removing that cap.

  7. Steven Houston says:

    PK, there was a big deal in the media some years back about the SW bike patrol that claimed they were writing 9 or so tickets a day on top of answering calls, writing reports, and riding through the apartment complexes (such as mine) several times a day. Given most officers in HPD average 1 ticket a day, by that metric they were highly productive. And whatever anyone else says, as a citizen, I might not want police going overboard crazy writing tickets but it is part of their job when they are not otherwise engaged in activities expected of them.

    If you just want the highlights, read pages 144 to 148 (the conclusion) or ask your statistically oriented brother to skim it over for you but the wealth of data is based on how the department does things and expected numbers needed to switch to a different overall style, some specifics covered but many left out. As a comparison point, Adrian Garcia, a former city council member and never promoted officer for the city with no college degree, had to hire expensive outside consultants to run the HCSO because as an elected official, he lacked the depth needed even with a larger command staff. HPD’s tendency to promote from within generally means you are going to limit change because so many things have “always been done that way”.

    HPD has made some changes and increased non classified personnel since the budget crunches but the way it has traditionally handled decentralization only insures having many fiefdoms instead of one, the resultant level of bureaucracy at each decentralized point typically wasting more than any savings. HFD has remained largely the same though 80% of services demanded relate to medical emergencies, both city departments offering a wealth of opportunities for saving great sums of time, which translates into money. Like mainstream, I have my doubts voters will go for the removal of the revenue cap, I am not convinced any monies gained that way would not be better spent reducing debt first before locking future spending in with massive hiring plans.

    Given cadets are no longer making $28k a year but have been bumped up to $42k, and that about doubles in 12 years, mass hiring to add officers, not just replace the coming wave of retirements, gets extremely expensive. Until the city finances are in order, adding more expenses per year will start to hurt very soon, revenue cap or not.

  8. Steven Houston says:

    One other thing, if the city really wants to encourage employees to live inside the city, and I’m not talking about renting a small place while the “real” residence if off in the county somewhere, it can really start the ball rolling by requiring every political appointee to move into the city. Then let it be known that all such appointees in the future will only be considered if they already live in the city limits. Public works, HFD, HR, HPD….all of them and apply it retroactively as you replace those not interested. Like an economic multiplier, you will likely get 4x more people moving on their own volition as they are groomer for bigger and better things.