Houston Police chief says staffing still an issue as investigation into suspended cases continues

Thursday, April 4, 2024
Houston PD staffing still an issue amid investigation suspended cases
Houston Police chief says the department remains understaffed as investigation into more than 260,000 suspended incident reports continues.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the investigation into why the Houston Police Department suspended more than 260,000 incident reports due to lack of staff continues, Chief Troy Finner said he remains deeply understaffed.

13 Investigates wants to know how HPD can handle new cases, all while revisiting tens of thousands of cases that have been sidelined since 2016.

When Chief Finner sat down with 13 Investigates and other media members this week, that's one of the crucial things he discussed.

Finner said the department cannot continue functioning with its current number of officers.

"We still don't have enough officers to investigate every crime in this city," Finner said on Tuesday.

HPD's latest data for January shows it has 5,187 officers, 2.2 officers per 1,000 residents.

Chicago, a city roughly the same size as Houston, has 4.7 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan research group based in Illinois.

"Staffing is a problem, and it has been a problem, but it is never an excuse not to investigate violent crimes against people," Finner said Tuesday.

RELATED: 13 Investigates timeline: HPD's 'suspended' code was an issue in 2014

Finner said he first learned incidents, including 4,000 adult sex crimes, were being marked with a "suspended -lack of personnel" code at a meeting on Nov. 4, 2021.

At that meeting, the commander in charge of the special victims unit sounded the alarm that her division was understaffed, according to Houston Police Officers' Union attorney Aaron Suder.

Suder represents that commander and nine other high-ranking officers who gave statements for HPD's internal affairs investigation into the suspended code.

"We have a client, the then-commander of the Special Victims Division, who emailed her superiors after the meeting on November 4th, 2021, and told them unequivocally that the manpower they were assigning to her division was not sufficient to keep up with incoming cases," Suder said. "They were well aware that SVD was not getting the manpower that they requested."

Suder said at least three of the officers he's representing were at the Nov. 4, 2021, meeting but said they never heard Chief Finner give orders not to use the code.

Suder said the three were not present for the entirety of the meeting.

RELATED: 13 Investigates talks with HPD leader who tried to warn chief of suspended code

13 Investigates spoke to Diana Poor, who claims she was at the meeting and heard Finner order that code never be used again.

Poor, who has since retired from her position as deputy director of HPD's Office of Planning & Data Governance, said she doesn't know why the code was created but that Finner was upset once he learned about it.

"Chief Finner was very upset that HPD was using this type of code," Poor recalled the 2021 meeting when he first learned about it. "Very upset about it and was telling the investigative members and the executive staff that was there that they needed to get manpower into those divisions in order to address all of these codes and that we were to stop using that type of code. It was not appropriate."

This summer, Houston Mayor John Whitmire will get to craft a new budget for the city. His office told us on Thursday that HPD is not just understaffed but also under-resourced.

Finner has long said he would like at least 2,000 more officers.

13 Investigates' Kevin Ozebek asked Finner this week if he thinks the mayor can get him the funding for that, and the chief said the mayor is an "optimistic man."

HPD is asking victims whose contact information has changed since the time of their report to call (713) 308-1180 or email specialvictimsreport@houstonpolice.org.

Contact 13 Investigates

Do you think your case was mishandled by HPD? Or are you an HPD whistleblower who wants to talk anonymously? Fill out the form below. (On mobile? You can open our form by tapping here.)