10/02/2007

Houston to spend $24 mil beefing up police force

By Kevin Moran
The Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON, Texas The city of Houston will spend an extra $24 million on police overtime in the next three years while boosting the number of officers on the streets by more than 500 in that period, Mayor Bill White said today.

The overtime money will finance more than 500,000 hours of police work through the fiscal year that ends in July 2010, White said.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said he expects the overtime work and new officers to drop violent crime by another 5 percent in the next two to three years. Hurtt last week released figures showing violent crime in Houston this year is down 5 percent from last year.

Total violent crime in Houston through August was down by 4.9 percent from August 2006, with reported rapes showing a decrease of 36.2 percent and robberies down by 4.2 percent, Hurtt said.

The added funding and manpower announced today will immediately put more officers to work, for more hours, in troubled areas of the city such as Acres Homes, where the bodies of seven women have been found in the past two years, White and Hurtt said at a City Hall news conference this morning.

The $24 million is in addition to more than $40 million the city has budgeted for overtime in each of the past two years.

The announcement drew praise from rank-and-file officers.

"The bottom line is that this is boots on the ground," said Houston Police Officers Union president Hans Marticiuc, who attended the meeting. "This is welcome news for every Houston police officer."

The money to add three police academy classes to four already scheduled, and put more officers to work on overtime in high-crime areas, comes from increased property taxes that voters exempted from a city budget tax cap, White said.

About 80 of the new street police will be already-commissoned officers who currently are working in the city jail and are scheduled to be replaced by civilians, he said. Those civilians eventually will become Harris County employees, he said.

"We cannot guarantee that we will not have criminals in Houston, Texas," White said. "But what I can say is that the criminals are going to have their hands full with the Houston Police Department."

Hurtt said more officers already are patrolling Acres Homes this week and others are looking for people there who have outstanding arrest warrants.

The increased overtime means neighborhood, or "storefront" police substations will be open longer and have more officers assigned to work there, Hurt said.

"We're going to focus most of these individuals on catching crooks," Hurtt said.

In some areas, Houstonians will see two officers in patrol cars "so they don't have to wait for backup," Hurtt said.

As the police force builds to an anticipated 5,400 or more officers in coming years, overtime spending will decrease, White said.

Hurtt said he expects to be able to show the public within as little as two months that the additional spending and manpower announced today will be reflected in reduced crime rates and more arrests in at least some areas of town.

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

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