HPD's new boss faces staff shortage issue

HOUSTON During her campaign, Mayor Annise Parker told the public she believed having the closest law officer respond to an emergency, regardless of what agency they belonged to, would be most effective.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland says there are some technology issues that need to be dealt with first. In spite of those hurdles, McClelland has talked to area law enforcement chiefs and constables and says he's received positive feedback.

"They are all in favor of the concept," McClelland said.

He plans to hold crime strategy meetings every two weeks with those officials.

"Radio and dispatch is our biggest obstacle," he added.

McClelland was sworn in as Houston's new police chief yesterday.

Eyewitness News Reporter Andy Cerota is following this story and will have more on later editions of Eyewitness News.

Dealing with staffing issues McClelland says manpower is such a serious issue that it wouldn't do anybody any good to just throw out a number.

Local business owners who've been targeted by crooks in the past couldn't agree more.

In the four years Vipin Patel has owned this sari shop in southwest Houston, crooks have smashed his front windows in at least three times.

"That is costly, every time it is costly to us. Every incident," Patel said.

While police presence in the area has increased, it may be temporary. Patel believes because the city is so spread out and growing so fast.

"To control the crime rate, we need more and more police officers with more power," he said.

But how many more? HPD is working with a group of researchers at UCLA in California who are going to tell us.

"We really need a comprehensive staffing study that's done for Houston," McClelland said.

McClelland says instead of using a cookie-cutter formula and comparing us to other large cities, this study is unique and will take into consideration demographics, the size of the city, and the types of crimes committed.

"I will say this, I think the classified personnel that we have at the Houston Police Department today is certainly enough to make sure that this city is safe," McClelland said.

But with 5,300 officers, nearly half of whom are eligible for retirement, the department is at a crossroads.

Patel is happy to see the new chief is doing something about it.

"It will be helpful," Patel said.

McClelland says UCLA is paying for the study through a grant. He hopes that study will get underway later this year.

Meanwhile, two cadet classes are slated for this year. McClelland says he believes those graduates will offset the attrition rate.

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