There is no more important responsibility of an elected official than to ensure the safety of a community.
That principle is enshrined in the city’s budget, which allocates resources among our many needs in the city. One of the four priorities outlined in the Fiscal Year 2020 City of Houston budget is responsive and efficient public safety services – and police services represent the single largest use of funds.
I want to improve public safety through effective crime prevention and enforcement.
One way to do that is to increase the number of officers in the Houston Police Department. Right now, we have about 5, 200 officers. According to a report by The PFM Group, Houston trails most major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, in the number of officers per 100,000 residents. I am proud that all four of my budgets have each included five police cadet classes of 75 cadets each.
This commitment to grow HPD is a big reason cited by Joe Gamaldi, the President of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, why HPOU PAC is endorsing me for reelection.
Gamaldi said: “Sylvester Turner is the first mayor in a generation to take on the staffing crisis that has harmed this Police Department and this community for entirely too long and to actually grow the Houston Police Department to the size that is fitting for the fourth-largest city in America.”
I realized that the Houston Police Department needed a leader who would be tough on crime but also smart about it. That’s why I appointed Art Acevedo as police chief – and he has changed the way HPD works, putting more emphasis and more resources on violent crime, including domestic violence and aggravated assaults.
The first Hispanic to lead the HPD, Acevedo brings a unique understanding to the concerns of the diverse communities in the city. He has helped pioneer the concept of “relational’ policing—a mindset and an attitude that each interaction with another human being is the beginning of a relationship. And that mirrors my belief that the community must be engaged in public safety efforts through strengthening the level of trust between our residents and our police and by watching out for each other.
My job is to give Chief Acevedo and HPD the resources to protect our community. In 2016, it looked like the city was on track to record an increased number of homicides. We responded with an aggressive plan that involved an extra $2 million for overtime, the deployment of 175 officers from desk jobs to beat patrols, more park rangers and a new patrol division dedicated to the Central Business District. One homicide is one too many, but our push worked and we ended up preventing the projected increase.
And all the hard work is paying off. Overall reported crime was down 4.39 percent for 2018 with violent crime decreasing a whopping 10.4 percent. Rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults all declined.
And more help for rape victims started in May with a pilot program at the Houston Forensic Science Center—the “crime lab”—which will work with other entities to electronically track “rape kits” from the moment of evidence collection through prosecution. Houston is leading the way on a crucial issue in the fight against sexual assaults. With the help of crime lab, the police department, our hospitals and our district attorney, we are setting an example for all to follow.
One of my priorities in the past session of the Texas Legislature, in fact, was to help the Houston crime lab and others by supporting legislation to allow forensic analysts to testify via video conferencing, improve the handling of sexual assault kits and create a Sexual Assault Victims Task Force.
Another legislative priority of my administration was to step up the battle against human trafficking. The City of Houston is a model for how a municipality can fight this horrific crime by not just law enforcement but by also reaching out to victims and providing them with the services they need. My administration helped ensure passage of legislation that helps identify and treat victims of human trafficking. Minal Patel Davis, my Special Advisor on Human Trafficking, was recently recognized with the prestigious Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the highest U.S. award for this issue. Check out this blog post if you’d like more detail about our efforts to combat human trafficking.
With the imminent approach of the second anniversary of Hurricane Harvey and dodging a bullet with Hurricane Barry this past week, I’d like to close out this blog post with a big shout out to all our first responders – and especially to the brave men and women of the Houston Police Department, who reported for duty when many of their own homes were underwater, protecting and rescuing our community.
Safety first – that’s the Houston way.