In one fell swoop yesterday, three local media stories demonstrated the woeful state of Chief Hurtt's leadership at HPD.
First, KHOU-11's Vicente Arenas reported on HPD's efforts to attract quality cadet recruits, especially critical now with the department's severe manpower shortage. Unfortunately, it's not going so well, even after HPD
lowered "tweaked" standards:
Starting pay for cadets is about $30,000 dollars a year.
Many people have applied for jobs as police officers, 300 last Fall alone. But only 11 got the job at a time when about 1,000 officers are needed to fill HPD’s ranks.
HPD said, despite the shortage of officers, it would not lower its standards to get new cops on the streets.
But 11 News has learned some of the academy's physical requirements have changed. Cadets are not required to do as many pushups and they no longer have to climb walls.
HPD says it only "tweaked" the requirements and they still meet national guidelines. Still Ramos worries the academy's standards may not be strict enough.
And six cadets have been let go recently due to criminal activity.
Next, KHOU's Jeremy Desel snagged an interview with HPD Crime Lab Director Irma Rios, who said that while times are tough, and morale is low, the department really is a good steward of the public's money:
The Bromwich Report into the old lab’s troubles cost the city $5.1 million.
The new lab has received $3.4 million in grants for DNA testing, instruments, training and consultants.
The budget for the crime lab doubled.
All told, more than $10 million was spent to get the new DNA lab up and running.
Still, the lab is not testing all the cases that come to HPD.
"They estimate there are over 2,000 unsolved murders,” said Rios. “Can we do that? We can't. We are building up the lab.”
Breaking down the spending a little further 11 News discovered that in 2005, while the DNA section of the lab was closed, the city spent $725,704 on testing at three outside labs.
In 2006, the lab reopened in July. As you might expect the spending dropped considerably to $258,597.
But last year, with the new lab up and running, the city still spent $336,230.24 on outside testing. And so far this year, even before the lab shut down again, the city had spent $205,446.04.
So, despite spending millions, it’s back to the beginning at HPD.
"Going forward I can tell you that we are being good stewards of the public's money,” said Rios. “And that we want that the work that is issued or reports that are issued are the best.
What KHOU's transcript doesn't include is what Rios said right after that sentence (it's on the video): "and that cost not be an objective on that." Even if the end product doesn't match those high standards, Ms. Rios? You'll recall cost was an objective when it came to the Bromwich investigation, with city officials initially balking at the rising cost of sorting out the crime lab's mess.
And then get a load of this: KTRK-13's Gene Apodaca reports that Chief Hurtt thinks HPD needs a new place to call home...and it's going to cost at least a quarter of a billion dollars. Hang on to your wallet for this one:
The plan consolidates several HPD buildings, including those on Travis and Reisner. And it replaces the troubled crime lab and property room. We've been telling you about problems there for months.
It's an expensive plan, $250 million. But the city has been working on this project since last March and they're hoping to complete the new facility as early as 2011 with a $250 million price tag.
Under the current proposal, five existing HPD buildings would be sold -- 1200 Travis, which houses administration and investigations, three facilities on Reisner, which house the city jail, central patrol, and transportation, along with 33 Artesia, which houses maintenance and communication.
The city is hoping to make more than $70 million on sale. The general services department would have to come up with the rest.
"Not only is it a nice place to work, it's a place where we can be more effective and efficient in providing services," said Chief Hurtt.
Among the benefits, the chief says, would be a new crime lab and property room, replacing the troubled ones HPD currently has.
"The crime lab is going to be in there," said Chief Hurtt. "We're going to be able to have a top notch crime lab center."
Wow. So the soccer stadium and the new convention center hotel aren't the only big budget projects the city's been working on below the radar.
Here's a question for Chief Hurtt: Since HPD's leadership hasn't been a good steward of the public's money for quite a while now (spending money on all the latest techno gadgetry, while not maintaining facilities, ignoring manpower issues until it was too late, not budgeting for a $150 million digital emergency radio system that is long overdue, and throwing money away on a second incarnation of the crime lab), how is this going to be any different?
They may not have enough police officers, their radio network may be out of date, and their crime lab findings may be unreliable, but boy, HPD officials will have mighty fine digs to call home. Image, baby.
RELATED NEWS: 2 shot outside Reliant Stadium after U.S.-Mexico match (Chron.com); HPD: Businessman killed burglar in self-defense (Chron.com); Girl's unfinished oatmeal leads to school bus shooting (KHOU-11)