HOUSTON - Shelby Stewart proudly wore a Houston police uniform for more than 28 years, but the former cop who retired at the rank of sergeant in 2009, worries about the department and the public it serves.
"I think it's a serious, and possibly a dangerous, situation,” said Stewart. His comments came a day after 126 officers filed paperwork to retire.
Officials at HPD, already dealing with mounting departures since the mayor announced a pension reform, said the department anticipated less than half that amount.
"To see that much experience leaving is a sad situation,” said Officer Ray Hunt, the president of the Houston Police Union. "Clearly, anytime you're 800 to 1,500 officers short, that's where we are now, anytime you have an uptick in the number of people leaving it's going to have an effect."
Houston's new police chief has said public safety will not be impacted and has vowed to authorize more overtime and expand police recruitment efforts.
But some people say finding enough people qualified and willing to do the job won’t be easy.
"You can't plug in rookies out of the academy and think they'll be as knowledgeable and efficient,” said Stewart.
The retirements announced this week will be phased in next year, with the bulk of them taking effect in March.
Most of the officers retiring have been with the department for more than 30 years.
HPD plans to add an extra cadet class to help make up the difference.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released the following statement:
“Considering there are 1,900 officers eligible to retire, I view this as a positive response to the pension reform. These numbers are in line with what we normally see. They are definitely far lower than the hundreds of retirements some had speculated we would have. Instead, we have hundreds who are staying. I want to thank them for their commitment and vote of confidence in the pension reforms.”