At the end of March the HPD family suffered another loss with a suicide. Each time I make public visits I explain to our citizens that officers are human just like they are. We are husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We suffer from illnesses, have financial issues, have family problems and experience other difficulties just like everyone else.
For some reason, officers tend to think that we are different and if we have to ask for help that shows we are weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the public holds us to a higher expectation than many other professions, but that does not mean that seeking help is beneath us.
A few years ago Joe Gamaldi, our second vice president, brought a program from New York to the Houston Police Officers Union. The program is our Houston Officers Peer Assistance (HOPA). I have written about this before but will reiterate it due to this latest suicide. This program is a 24/7 telephone line – 832-200-3499 – that is staffed by trained counselors who are retired officers. If they are unable to assist, they can make a referral. It is completely confidential and the person calling does not even have to identify themselves.
We use retired officers to insure that IAD cannot compel the counselors from ever giving out any information. When Chief Acevedo learned the reason for using retired officers, he instructed his legal team to research the possibility of using active officers as well without forcing them to give information to IAD.
In addition to HOPA, Dr. Steven Tate and his staff at Psychological Services are available 24/7 to assist officers who may need their professional assistance. During regular office hours, they can be contacted at 832-394-1440. After hours they can be contacted through the command center at 713-308-1500.
It’s not weak to ask for help and it’s the job of each of us to watch after our Blue Family!
We are now over halfway through the 85th session of the Texas Legislature. While we are monitoring all criminal justice bills, our focus is still on the pension bill. As of this writing, the Senate bill has passed out of the State Affairs Committee by a 7-1 vote. The House bill has passed out of the Pension Committee by a 6-1 vote. The House version is the one that HPOPS and the HPOU are supporting, as it pays the $750 million owed without a required vote. The Senate version mirrors the House version, but requires a vote of Houstonians for an owed debt, which makes no financial sense to any of us.
If both bills pass out of the respective chambers and still differ, then they will be sent to a conference committee to attempt to make an agreed amendment to bill. If no agreement is reached, then the bills fail. WE DO NOT ANTICIPATE THAT. We fully anticipate a pension reform bill passing this session that pays the money owed by the city, makes discussed concessions to future benefits to shore up the fund, and secures our pensions today and into the future.
We will continue to email our members weekly updates each Friday. Make sure we have your correct email address. If you are not receiving those updates, we have the wrong or no email for you. Call 832-200-3410 or come by the HPOU office to update your email. I urge you to get the facts and not rely on rumors regarding this important legislation. I respond at least three times a week to false information circulating around the department regarding our pensions.