Layoffs for HPD officers could be coming

April 21, 2011 4:30:53 AM PDT
Layoffs have been expected for nearly every city department in Houston -- including police. Now those close to the process say a significant number of positions could be eliminated. A source tells Eyewitness News that Police Chief Charles McClelland spent much of Wednesday morning behind closed doors with his command staff to talk about the budget. Rumors are running rampant and there's a lot of uncertainty about the future.

When you need a police officer in an emergency, every second counts.

"Because you're scared that something may happen to you," said Houston resident Elsa Garcia.

It frightens Garcia to think how a five percent cut to the police budget could affect response times. Police Union President Gary Blankinship says if jobs are lost, those fears won't be unfounded.

"Quite frankly, we are way understaffed as it is," Blankinship said. "Frankly I don't know how much further we can go."

With the city still facing an $80 million budget shortfall, HPD is facing cuts for the first time in decades and Houston's police chief may soon be forced to make some tough decisions that could include layoffs.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker admitted, "We are down to personnel cuts."

Houston Parker submits her budget proposal next month.

She said, "If I can put money back in the police department, first we will protect the jobs of police officers and then I would like the opportunity to protect the jobs of jailers, so I can keep officers out on the street."

But the fight to save jobs is not an easy one. Salaries account for 95 percent of the police department's operating budget. While tax revenues have increased, it may not be enough.

Houstonian Cheryl Lee says the city shouldn't gamble when it comes to public safety.

"Burglar bars, the alarm systems those just don't protect you anymore," Lee said. "You need the help of police officers and cutting back is not the option, not with police officers."

So far though, the police chief is not talking about how he plans to handle the budget cuts. We do expect to hear more from him this afternoon.

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