Houston HPD’s Staffing Crisis

No matter where you live, what you do or who you hang out with in the city of Houston, crime is something that affects everyone.  We all want to live in a safe environment.  But according to a new internal report, Houston is not as safe as it could be, and sadly not as safe as other Texas major cities.  Here’s the story from Mike Morris and James Pinkerton of the Houston Chronicle

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.

The article went on to note that Houston’s crime rate is significantly above other major cities in Texas, even when factoring in population differences.  Basically, we have more almost three times the number of violent crimes reported in the Bayou City than in the next nearest large city.  21,610 violent crimes were reported for Houston in 2012… while only 8,380 were reported in the city of Dallas.  This is evidence that Houstonians are living in a time where we need a strong HPD more than ever.  Here’s more from the Chronicle…

“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,” [Council Member C.O.] 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.”

This is a compounding situation, as job stress/ overworking is inextricably linked to other HPD issues.  For those few police that are out there, the stress of having such a huge workload can’t be good for their job effectiveness. We see that stress through a constant stream of difficulties for the department, including incidents of unfair treatment to citizens, profiling and even police brutality.

It’s never going to be politically popular to entertain the thought of raising taxes on hard-working Houstonians, but this report shows HPD bordering on a staffing crisis.  All options to provide for the safety of Houston’s citizens should be on the table. As most are aware, HPD is far from the only police force in the city of Houston.  Mayor Parker has done some “stream-lining” with other agencies like METRO Police, school district officers and other law enforcement entities.  But we’re still falling far short of what needs to happen.

The report is an important first step… we can’t truly fix a problem until we understand it thoroughly.  But now that the knowledge is out there, let’s hope that this becomes a top priority of Houston City Council.

Off the Kuff and the Chron’s Lisa Falkenberg have more on this shocking report.