Budget woes force HPD to seek cuts
The Houston Police Department is slashing more than $15 million from its budget due to the loss of funds from the termination of the red-light camera program and ongoing city budget pressures.
The equivalent of more than 100 civilian jobs, including temporary workers, will be eliminated over two years through layoffs and attrition. Chief Charles McClelland has moved to cut overtime, delay two cadet classes, institute a hiring freeze for civilians and deploy officers to administrative duties previously completed by civilians.
Several signature programs of former Mayor Bill White, including SafeClear, a towing program used to clear roadways, and mobility response teams, which were deployed to ease traffic congestion, may be canceled or significantly revised, police and city officials said.
The overall loss of personnel and overtime in the past three fiscal years is now the equivalent of more than 500 employees, and McClelland revealed that more than 1,800 officers currently are eligible for retirement. That's more than 40 percent of the estimated 5,300 now at HPD.
"We're going to have to do more with less," he said. "Some police officers will be doing tasks that, ordinarily, civilian personnel would be doing. With the loss of civilian staffing, it's going to be difficult. I certainly think that we're going to be able to keep this city safe, but some non-emergency services are going to be slower."
Mayor Annise Parker insisted the cuts would not damage crime-fighting efforts.
"None of the cuts are going to impact public safety," she said. "We are consolidating in every city department. ... We are not laying off police officers, we are not laying off firefighters."
City Councilman Mike Sullivan, who said he opposed more than $2 million in cuts to police overtime funding, disputed that claim.
"When you make cuts in the police budget, in staffing, overtime, investigative resources, it's going to impact the crime rate," he said. "It will go up. It's just statistically a proven fact that when we reduce our resources to the police department, crime goes up."
Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, said HPD has managed to deploy other teams of officers to crime hot spots to compensate for the loss of overtime this year.
However, officers in the crime reduction unit, which frequently work on gang-related crimes and policing, will have less time for that sort of work, he said.
"They're trying to put a Band-Aid on this thing until we get through the budget crunch," he said. The department's ability to respond to emergencies likely will not change, Blankinship said.
$1 million deficit
McClelland presented data to City Council Wednesday showing that SafeClear, the towing program that White created to reduce congestion, is running at a deficit of more than $1 million.
Money allocated for several dozen "mobility response team" members who have been used to respond quickly to traffic emergencies will run out soon, he said.
City Council members Sullivan and Al Hoang advocated for SafeClear to be scrapped, and Parker said council would consider the program's funding carefully.
To eliminate the SafeClear deficit this year, McClelland said the Metropolitan Transit Authority will help run some aspects of the program, allowing him to redeploy more than a dozen HPD officers.
The department also is reeling from about $10.5 million in budget cuts it will have to make in the next two fiscal years due to the cancellation of the city's red-light camera program.
Voters rejected the city's use of the devices in a Nov. 2 referendum. To make up for the loss of revenue this year, McClelland said the department has frozen civilian hiring and cut overtime.
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