HOUSTON – On any given day in Houston, there are not enough police officers on patrol, according to union leaders. They say staffing has not kept up with the city’s growth.
Police and firefighters provide the most basic services people expect of their city. But for the past month, the Houston Fire Department’s been pulling some of its engines out of service, to reduce overtime and fill an $8.5 million budget hole.
It’s called a brown-out and it’s raised a lot of concern. However, Houston police union leaders said it’s nothing new for them.
“We do that in the police department every, single day,” Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union, said. “We have cars that sit idle because the person is either sick, scheduled vacation time, training time or whatever it may be.”
So here’s one basic difference, if the driver of this fire truck called in sick, the fire department would normally bring someone in to work overtime and cover for him. The police department doesn’t work like that. If your normal beat officer calls in sick, his car would just sit idle.
“They really need to address that, because every beat should be covered,” Rhode Izaguirre, a Houston resident, said.
Right now, officers in the next beat over have to pick up the slack.
“We’re sorely understaffed at the Houston Police Department,” Hunt said.
HPD has the same number of officers now – 5,300 – as a decade ago, but the city’s population has ballooned in that time. Add to that a high retirement rate and small recruiting classes, HPD is left with a big problem.
“You can see right there, you’re going to have a problem,” Hunt said.
Hunt added that the city needs to hire up to 1,500 more officers and boost starting salaries, to keep the streets, and officers patrolling them, safe.
“We need our cops,” Sandra Woodruff, another resident, said.