“I want to look at the Houston Police Department. I’m not planning on cutting their budget, but it can’t keep growing the way it has.”
That was Parker on Sunday, using HPD as an example of a city department that needs to change in tough economic times. Her frank talk about HPD’s future made for some awkward moments at the grand opening of a new police firing range, where city councilman Mike Sullivan praised Chief Harold Hurtt.
“Chief, this is just another example of the leadership that you’ve given our department. The facility upgrades that you’ve had, from the K-9 and mounted patrol to this facility are outstanding.”
Hurtt will likely be looking at those improvements in the rearview mirror as he leaves town, a casualty of the new administration.
“That’s her right to do that. I came here in 2004 to work for Bill White and Bill White is leaving office at the end of the year and I’ll be leaving office at the same time.”
Hurtt says he has no job prospects and feels like he’s done a good job in Houston as police chief. He says it’s easy to criticize the high cost of public safety.
“Policing is expensive but it’s also necessary and the public shouldn’t look at this really as well, we’re spending so much of our budget on public safety. You’re making an investment in your safety today and your safety tomorrow.”
Councilmember Melissa Noriega chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee and says it comes as no surprise to her that Mayor Elect Parker wants to clean house at HPD.
“I think a top to toe evaluation of what we do, how we do it, what it costs and where we might find some ways to save is never a bad idea. I think that’s important to do and this is a good time to do it. Anytime a new person comes in, whether it’s a school or a business, you do an audit. This is a similar kind of thing.”
After its high-profile endorsement of Parker’s opponent, Gene Locke, the Houston Police Officer’s Union finds itself in a pickle as well. It now has to work with a new mayor that was stung by the union’s criticism during her campaign. Union President Gary Blankenship says it’s time to move forward and accept the changes.
“Nobody wins in an adversarial situation so our goal is to work with the mayor and the new administration and try to move the ball forward.”
Parker has promised to meet with Chief Hurtt and get his thoughts on his command staff. So far, Hurtt says, he hasn’t talked to Parker.