Questions over HPD cars

October 21, 2009 4:31:39 PM PDT
The City of Houston is now considering spending millions of dollars to upgrade its old city employee cars. While council members agree officers need the best equipment on the street, it's led to discussions of the police department's car take home policy.According to the police union, right now just a small percentage of police officers can take their police vehicles home. But even that is drawing the ire of one council member, who points out that many police officers don't live within the City of Houston. She wonders if Houston police cars should stay within the city.

Whether at a crime scene or patrolling the city, HPD currently has 1,759 marked police cars on the streets. On Wednesday, city council voted to replace 186 aging vehicles. The $7 million price tag didn't raise many eyebrows. But it did bring up the issue of just how many officers get to take those cars home.

Council member Anne Clutterbuck requested "an itemization of how many police officers live in the City of Houston with take-home privileges, and how many live outside of the City of Houston with take-home privileges."

Clutterbuck says she's concerned that officers who live outside the city limits are taking cars home.

She suggested, "Perhaps we should request a review of that and a change in our city policy of allowing police cars to leave the City of Houston when they are not on duty."

But the police union says the city already has strict guidelines. Each take-home vehicle needs the police chief's approval, and can't be more than 30 miles from police headquarters.

Mark Clark with the Houston Police Union explained, "The problem was fixed a few years ago. Council member Clutterbuck is a good friend. She may not be aware of that. So, by her raising the question, doesn't necessarily mean anything's bad. I think she's deserving of having some answers."

For his part, Mayor Bill White says officers often do Houston police work outside of city limits, and for now, sees no major reason for big policy changes.

He said, "It ought to be reviewed with the objective of, what do we do to maximize the efficiency of city personnel, and to treat city employees fairly."

Police officers are not the only ones affected. City council members say they would like similar data to be provided to them about city-owned non-police vehicles that are also being taken home by some employees.

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