HOUSTON – The police department is cutting millions of dollars from its budget following the loss of revenue from the controversial red-light cameras that voters struck down last month.
The cuts will not include any officer layoffs, but 39 vacant civilian positions won’t be replaced this fiscal year. That number will grow for the 2012 fiscal year, the police chief said.
"I certainly think that we're still going to be able to keep this city safe,” Chief Charles McClelland said. “But some other non-emergency services may be slower."
Overall, HPD’s budget will total about $666 million for the 2011 fiscal year.
The cuts will add up to about $11.5 million. They include delaying two-cadet classes, reducing supplies and services, raising the cost for take-home vehicles and cutting some travel and training.
Officer overtime will also be slashed by $2.6 million this fiscal year, McClelland said. That’s the equivalent of 78 full-time positions.
"In effect, you're cutting police officers," said Gary Blankenship, the president of the police officers’ union.
Still, Blankenship added that the department would still be able to keep the public safe and that it was a reasonable budget given the tough economic times.
"We are going to continue to look for ways that we can leverage the officers we have to make up for the changes in overtime," Mayor Annise Parker said.
McClelland’s budget presentation at Wednesday’s Houston City Council meeting received approval from many council members, but not all.
At least one council member questioned whether the cuts would hurt public safety.
“It's a proven fact that when we reduce our budgets our crime rates go up,” council member Mike Sullivan said. "I will personally fight any reduction in police overtime."
The budget discussions are far from over. Over the next few weeks, city council will likely decide what to do with the SafeClear towing program, which is losing money.