HOUSTON - Mayor Sylvester Turner has been direct and to the point when urging lawmakers to pass the city’s pension reform bill.
Benefits for the city’s public safety and retired municipal workers are controlled by state law and cannot be changed at a local level.
“If we don’t get pension reform, forget about adding one more police officer,” said Turner. “Let’s start talking about how many we’re going to be saying, ‘Thank you for your service, but we cannot afford you at this point in time.”
The mayor’s remarks come at a time the Houston Police Department is already running between 800 and 1,500 officers short.
“What we have now is not enough to cover the city,” said Turner.
KHOU 11 took an in-depth look at how current HPD staffing is effecting crime in the city.
Jaime Mendez returned from San Antonio the evening of April 10, 2017 to find his home burglarized.
“I found out that everything I had, my TV’s, surround sound and everything was stolen,” said Mendez. “I called the cops, they didn’t get here until two hours later.”
For non-emergency calls the wait time can fluctuate. Mendez expected a full investigation with photos, fingerprints and results.
“There was supposed to be an investigator to come the next day,” said Mendez. “I’m still here waiting.”
Investigators did contact Mendez after KHOU 11 asked Houston Police Department to verify the break-in.
Houston Police Officers’ Union President, Ray Hunt, says the big cases like murders are getting attention, however, less serious crimes like Mendez’s are not.
“What’s really suffering is the investigations,” said Hunt. “You’ve got lots of cases being suspended. No investigations taking place because there’s no manpower available to do it.”
For Houston residents, less officers means less response for crime victims like Mendez.
The already short-staffed department could become thinner.
Mayor Tuner predicts, if the Pension Reform bill fails, the city will add another $134 million to the already existing predicated budget shortfall of $90 million to $100 million for Fiscal Year 2018.
Making matters worse, the Mayor says roughly 240 cadets graduate from Houston Police Academy per year. Recruiting and graduating new officers may be a challenge because of the pension and budget crisis.
“Let’s assume there is no pension reform,” said Turner. “All of those cadet classes will stop. We won’t be able to pay for them. In addition to not being able to pay for them, we will probably have to lay off some police officers as well."
Both the house and senate versions of Houston’s pension reform bill have been voted out of committee.
Turner says the 30-year fixed plan will pay off the estimated $7.7 billion the city owes its pension fund over the next three decades, cut yearly costs and require full yearly contributions to police, fire and municipal employees.
The proposal means reduced benefits and employees paying more into the fund.
HPD is not the only department effected by what happens with Houston’s pension reform bill. Failure could force the city to lay off between 1,800 to 2,200 city employees. This, up from Mayor Turner’s 1,500 to 1,800 weeks earlier.