Public safety priorities
KHOU-11 has reported on two more instances of questionable prioritizing by HPD and the city of Houston.
First, KHOU uncovered a taxpayer-funded study the city of Houston commissioned in 2003, that says the city's emergency radio system, used by police officers and firefighters, has serious problems. According to KHOU, the city has not shared the report with the public.
The report identifies three problems: a crowded radio system, where sometimes police and fire personnel must wait their turn before they can get on the air; dead spots all over the Houston area, for example in shopping malls, the downtown tunnels, highrises and even a large portion of Kingwood; and radio towers that could present a danger to the public because of rust and damage.
Here's the response Mayor White gave KHOU:
"It's not a problem that's going to be solved in one day. It will be over a period of years," said Mayor Bill White.
Of course the mayor's right that the radio system problems won't be solved in one day; however, failing to release such a critical report is not the most transparent way to handle the problem. The public has a right to know what this report said and what the city is going to do to address the problems.
Replacing the emergency radio system is not going to be cheap, but the mayor might win support for the city's numerous new revenue streams if the public could be assured that the revenue generated was actually going toward upgrading emergency communications. Maybe there's even some Homeland Security funding for a program like this.
The second case of questionable prioritizing came to light yesterday, when we learned that HPD had pulled some officers off their regular duty to handle $AFEclear secretarial work:
"We had officers taken from their assignments no matter what they were doing and they went up to wreckers division and they're pulling accident reports," says [Houston Police Patrolman's Union president Johnnie] McFarland.
An officer who spoke to 11 News off camera said these officers were hand copying every accident report from 2004 after which civilian clerks were entering the data into a computer program. The focus, the officer says, is accidents involving stalled vehicles or those on the side of the freeway.
Some say it is in response to the death of a motorist who witnesses say crossed Interstate 10 in hopes of preventing a Safe Clear tow.
The official police response is that with any new program, it is standard procedure to document program statistics and that's what this was.
Okay, the question then becomes, does HPD pull police officers to do this every time a new program is implemented? If that's the case, then maybe HPD has an administrative problem. The skeptic in me wonders if HPD is helping the mayor make his case for $AFEclear, since the uproar over the program hasn't completely faded.
Combine these stories with other recent news -- such as red light cameras, Chief Hurtt's desire for radar cameras to catch speeders, the new productivity policy, and most importantly, the police manpower shortage -- and I think HPD and city officials need to refocus on the city government's primary mission: public safety. Houston police officers are trying to do just that every day, but they need more support from the city's higher-ups.