Houston, We have a problem: HPD is below 5,200 officers and lacks the funding to grow

The Houston Police Department has fallen below 5,200 officers for the first time in more than a decade. The HPOU believes we are in a crisis situation and police are no longer able to keep this city safe with the lack of officers.

Some crime is down, but homicides are up 34 percent. We have officers handling dangerous calls alone, we have very little proactive policing able to take place, and investigators are having to pick and choose which cases to work. While we thank Mayor Parker for finding funding for four cadet classes and attempting to add a fifth, these classes will not even keep up with attrition, which is higher than anticipated.

We have urged captains to allow persons to pair up during these difficult times (as the chief permits), and appreciate all who have. Some shift commanders are fearful to pair up units when doing so will leave some beats uncovered.

We believe that safety is paramount and calls can hold in order to make sure officers have back-up immediately upon arrival on calls. Managers cannot continue to attempt to keep response times down at the risk of officers’ safety.

What’s the solution? Funding!

Everyone wants a speedy response to their 911 calls and wants an investigator investigating their case, but this requires money. With the looming tax cap, this could further reduce funding for public safety. Politicians do not want to raise taxes or impose fees, but someone has to pay for the services being provided.

Mayor Bill White cut taxes .25 percent each year for five of his six years in office. While this was very little savings to anyone individually, it was a massive cut to the city budget. Further, the creation of TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) takes additional money away from the general fund and places it in the various TIRZ accounts across the city.

At least one mayoral candidate claims he will hire 1,500 new officers without raising taxes. Read my lips: HE CAN’T.

It’s time for our leaders to seriously consider raising taxes or imposing a public safety fee aimed at hiring more officers to keep this city safe. Failing to do so is going to result in more officers being injured or killed and result in citizens seeing an increase in crime.

 Pray for Police

As many of you know, the Pray for Police campaign began at 6 a.m. on Sept. 9 and ran for 24 hours. The HPOU purchased 10,000 bracelets and the Houston Police Foundation purchased another 10,000 bracelets. Grace Community Church also purchased 10,000 for its Sunday service.

Upon my arrival around 5:45 a.m., Doug Griffith was leading a team from the HPOU, Public Affairs, and KSBJ radio. All the media outlets were set up for live shots. Citizens were already arriving to get their bracelets before they headed off to work.

From that point forward there was an incredible outpouring of support from citizens of all ages and races, those covered in tattoos and those in suits, business owners and pizza delivery drivers, all coming to show their support for law enforcement.

I witnessed one of the media outlets ask a 7- or 8-year-old black young man for an interview. He complied. The reporter asked him why he was out getting a bracelet. His response was, “I want to support the police and don’t like people saying bad things about them. I want to be a police officer someday and don’t want them saying bad things about me either.”

As I walked away from that young man, a Hispanic lady holding a bracelet asked if I would say a prayer with her. After a brief prayer, the lady was sobbing. She hugged me and stated, “You have no idea how much I needed that. Thanks for what all of you do.”

Every person who volunteered during that 24-hour vigil has similar stories to the two above. Joe Gamaldi was right on point when he commented that any officer who spent five minutes seeing these supporters and hearing the comments would have their morale lifted sky high.

It was clear that the campaign was bigger than any of us ever anticipated. KSBJ planned to broadcast for only five hours, but stayed all day after seeing the incredible support. Many volunteer prayer partners prayed over officers as they dropped by to pick up bracelets. After about 10 hours, we began to run out of bands and quickly placed another order of 10,000 to be delivered in two days. In order to fulfill those coming by during the 24-hour period, Grace Community Church was generous enough to lend us 5,000 of their bands.

The 24-hour campaign has now become an ongoing campaign. People all over are taking photos with the bracelets and posting them on Facebook and tweeting them out.

We have photos with President Bush and Barbara, Bob McNair, Chief McClelland, Austin Chief Acevedo, and many others. We are continuing to order bracelets and plan to give them out to anyone who comes by the HPOU. The 100 Club of Greater Houston is paying for additional bands to be distributed. The Houston Police Foundation has ordered 25,000 window stickers to be distributed. Chief McClelland has already authorized the stickers to be placed on marked police cars. Clear Channel Outdoors has donated 20 billboards for Pray for Police. HPOU’s Lisa Marino has answered an incredible number of calls and attempted to fulfill all requests for bracelets.

I have never seen anything like this support and thank all those who have volunteered and all who are proudly wearing the Pray for Police bracelets.

We encouraged those wearing the bracelets to give a thumbs-up to police. Within hours we began hearing from officers stating they had never gotten so many thumbs-up signs as they are now getting.

Thanks to all who assisted and continue to assist in this campaign.

Loss of a Dear Friend

Bishop Floyd Lewis was a great friend to police and a father figure to me. While driving to the HPOU meeting last month, he suffered a stroke and crashed his vehicle. He was rushed to the hospital where a blood clot was found in his carotid artery.

Surgery was performed and he never recovered. He passed away on Labor Day and his funeral was held the following Monday. This man assisted police officers as an auxiliary chaplain for over 27 years and was a personal mentor to me for the last two years. Please keep his wife and family in your prayers. He will be missed by many.