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HPD retirements

This is a concern, but I don’t think it’s a big one.

A dozen of the Houston Police Department’s top commanders were among 123 officers who filed paperwork this week indicating they plan to retire in the first half of next year, senior City Hall and HPD sources said, a sign that a rumored exodus driven by unease about possible pension reforms may be underway.

As of last month, the department’s retirements for 2016 were on pace with the attrition rates seen in recent years. However, the number of officers now expected to leave by July 1 – the earliest a new pension structure would take effect, if Mayor Sylvester Turner can get the proposal passed at the Legislature – far outstrips the typical volume of about 50, HPD spokesman John Cannon said.

Officers can retire at any time, but Wednesday was the deadline for those who wish to enter a program called “phasedown” in which employees effectively retire but retain some benefits of employment while using up accumulated vacation days and other paid time off.

The uptick in retirement filings comes as city officials and law enforcement experts acknowledge the police department already is understaffed. HPD has fewer officers on the street today than it had to police a much smaller city 15 years ago, and a recent operational study recommended ramping up hiring to improve the rates at which crimes are solved.

City leaders long have been concerned that huge numbers of first responders are eligible to retire, as many were encouraged to stay on the job by the pension benefit increases Turner now is working to roll back. About 37 percent of police officers and 25 percent of firefighters are eligible to begin drawing a pension.

The mayor cast the number of retirement filings as a positive, saying it was lower than some had predicted.

“Considering there are 1,900 officers eligible to retire, I view this as a positive response to the pension reform,” Turner said. “These numbers are in line with what we normally see. They are definitely far lower than the hundreds of retirements some had speculated we would have. Instead, we have hundreds who are staying. I want to thank them for their commitment and vote of confidence in the pension reforms.”

[…]

Many senior HPD chiefs face a fairly obvious decision to retire because of a provision that essentially drops the salaries on which their pension payments would be calculated to that of captain. The effect is similar for some lower-ranking officers, as well.

“Folks have to make decisions based on their personal financial consequences if they were to stay, and I understand that,” Acevedo said. “I’m confident that regardless of the numbers, our men and women are up to the challenge and are committed to doing whatever it takes to keep Houston safe, which is as simple as starting an overtime program where all hands will be on deck, working patrol or whatever other function needs to be worked.”

Acevedo also was unphased by the prospect of losing as many as 13 of HPD’s top 17 commanders, the number sources said filed retirement papers Wednesday, in part because he intends to flatten the command structure.

“You hate to see a lot of good people leave, but the sky’s not going to fall,” he said. “With the retirement of good people, it creates opportunities for other good people who are full of energy, ready to lead and probably will bring a new, fresh creativity to their position. We’ll get through it.”

I agree completely with Chief Acevedo. HPD and the city will be fine. The hiring of the new chief, who is planning to make changes in the command structure, would likely have spurred a few departures even in the absence of the pension change. There will likely be some bumps in the road, but this is just the circle of life. We will indeed get through it.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Houston says:

    I’m sure the city will be just fine over time but won’t increased retirements make it more difficult for Turner to keep his campaign pledge to hire 500 more officers? According to the official spokesman, senior officers are retiring at a rate of 250% from the norm but it’s being pointed out that the article is comparing those leaving under a specific program vs. previous years using all retirements. Isn’t that a false comparison? Nobody is suggesting all 1900 cops eligible to bolt are going to do so but the implication that only 125 will leave total is a gigantic leap of faith, more likely numbers to be closer to 500 or more.

    It took the city over ten years to catch up from the wave of retirements taking place under White and that was bolstered by changing hiring requirements to lower education requirements, various scores, and expanding the distance from the area. With reduced benefits, that will only make the task that much more difficult moving forward, one of the remaining chiefs suggesting that he might be able to get them in the door but retaining them will be much more challenging. Read between the lines as to what that means. Acevedo is used to dealing with the best compensated cops in the state of Texas and is now in charge of the group considered the lowest paid big city police in the country so if he can improve dreadful clearance rates and response times with what is left, he’ll have earned his status as one of the top paid police chiefs in the country.

    I suggest we start a betting pool regarding how many actually leave. Most of the 1900 will stay out of necessity but most that are going to walk away also know they don’t have the seniority to enter the limited openings for the phasedown provision of their contracts. Some numb nuts will appreciate the cost savings, 500 senior cops leaving will save Houston in excess of $70 million a year, and that was probably factored into the screwy pension deal but wasn’t publicized. But suggesting this will only “spur a few departures” is classic Double-Speak out of Orwell’s works.

  2. Alex Bunin says:

    “Acevedo also was unphased by the prospect of losing as many as 13 of HPD’s top 17 commanders, the number sources said filed retirement papers Wednesday, in part because he intends to flatten the command structure.”

    Yeah, but was he unfazed? That’s what really matters.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    Alex, Acevedo really has no ability to flatten his command structure, in the existing hierarchy the political appointees consist of executive assistant chiefs and assistant chiefs who are appointed by the Mayor. Historically, every single one of those appointees is tied to some group or other that Turner needs support from, so I am curious to see how many positions get cut. If he gets his wish, I suspect he’ll regret it almost immediately since those are the flunkies that the Chief uses to carry out mundane tasks, have meetings, and sign off on paperwork which would otherwise fall on the top man himself.