West Houston residents blast MayorWhiteChiefHurtt on crime

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MayorWhiteChiefHurtt were grilled by West Houston residents on Wednesday night, as 1,700 people turned out to a public meeting on (what else?) violent crime and inadequate policing. Here is an excerpt from the Chronicle‘s reporting:

Katrina fatigue erupted into anger and frustration Wednesday night, as more than 1,700 west Houston residents urged Mayor Bill White to send evacuees home to New Orleans.

One year after the city of Houston welcomed at least 250,000 evacuees, more than 100,000 New Orleans natives still remain. West Houston residents who gathered Wednesday at Grace Presbyterian Church to address increases in violent crime over the past year in their community said evacuees are to blame.

MayorWhiteChiefHurtt

White and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt had come to the church to discuss details of a new police division on the west side that will add 140 officers to the streets, increase investigative strength, bring gang activity under control and enforce traffic laws.

While residents welcomed the news, many who filled the sanctuary to overflowing Wednesday night wanted to know when the city planned to cut assistance to evacuees through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are about 3,000 Katrina evacuees who reside in the apartment complexes near Westheimer and the Beltway 8.

As KTRH-740’s Chris Baker pointed out earlier, HPD’s manpower problem predates Katrina. Although it is true that Katrina refugees figure prominently in the recent rise in violent crime, the fact is that HPD’s worsening manpower problem and leadership issues predate Katrina, and until recently nobody in the White Administration or on Council was even talking about hiring more officers.

One councilmember (who, incidentally, is one of the sponsors of tomorrow’s event honoring Houston’s bumbling police chief) actually tried to deflect blame for HPD’s manpower shortage from Mayor White and Council to President Bush! Here’s KTRK-13’s reporting from tonight:

By 2008, Mayor White and Houston’s police chief hope to bring the ranks up to 5,000 officers. It’s achievable, but what happens the year after that or five years after that? With another 600 officers expected to retire over the next three years, Mayor White says he’s committed to a long term hiring program.

The plan calls for seven cadet classes through June 2007. That’s an addition of nearly 500 officers, assuming those classes are at capacity. It also calls for more aggressive overtime programs using the nearly 30 million in federal monies and various recruiting programs. How realistic is this?

Houston city councilmember Adrian Garcia said, “It was realistic until President Bush signed a pension reform bill.”

Garcia estimates that 40% of HPD’s workforce is eligible for retirement. But that’s not his only concern.

He said, “Filling those classes is going to be a challenge. The type of officer that we are hiring today has a job waiting in corporate America and we don’t offer corporate America salaries.”

As the recruiting wars continue, Garcia says he and the mayor, along with the police chief and other city leaders, are now working on a long term solution to the current crisis.

Councilmember Garcia, Mayor White, and other councilmembers preferred to ignore the problem until recently (not that someone watching KTRK would know from that weak reporting), and it’s only gotten worse. The current leadership at HPD, which has produced widespread dissatisfaction among the rank and file, doesn’t exactly provide the city a recruiting edge, either. But maybe the crew that gathers to honor Chief Hurtt with cajun appetizers tomorrow will find a way to blame dissatisfaction with HPD’s leadership on President Bush also.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE: KHOU-11, KPRC-2, KTRH-740.

BLOGVERSATION: Lou Minatti, Polimom.

UPDATE (09-01-2006): Councilmember Michael Berry is discussing Houston’s “public safety crisis” on his show on KPRC-950 today.


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