Currently, the Houston Police Department is down about 700 officers, a shortage that Houston Mayor Bill White says could be alleviated by hiring retired officers to fill the gap until new recruits are trained. "We don't want to compromise, we don't want to substitute retired for new academy classes, but it could be a bridge. So, it would be at some salary level which would be less than overtime. It would be a savings to taxpayers compared to overtime," he says.
Despite the police shortage, the mayor says improved procedures are more important than headcount when it comes to better call times and less violent crime. He says transferring officers out of lower crime areas and into higher crime neighborhoods makes more sense than simply allowing unlimited overtime. "Are we going to do some across-the-board, where we say okay, now everybody work 10-percent more hours? No, that's not a very business-like way to go about it. But to look at changes in procedures and deploy more law enforcement resources in the district where crime is going up, which means taking some of the areas where crime has been going down, it means some of those officers may be reassigned," says White.
Houston Police Officer's Union president Hans Marticiuc says he doesn't know details of the mayor's plan to hire retired officers, but says he can't imagine they'll line up for desk jobs. "I'm not sure you're going to get any person that's already spent 30 or 35 years of his life here to come back and answer a phone. I think that there's probably more important things that their doing for themselves at this point in their lives," he says. "I'd be completely against him bringing in retirees and moving them to investigative positions and moving those people out, I wouldn't allow that to happen, so I'm not sure what he wants."
Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former police officer himself, says pulling 200 officers away from their jobs at city jails and putting them back on the street would alleviate some of the shortage. He also says an internet-based reporting system for lower-priority calls should be considered. "I think it would help to take some pressure off the call-for-loop service, where people could report crimes that have no solvability factors, no suspect information, not a concrete time of occurence, no evidence. That's just as one example," he says.
This past holiday weekend, Houston recorded 14 murders and has already surpassed last year's total. Although murders are up this year, overall crime in Houston is down almost 3-percent compared to 2004.