HPD chief says shortage of officers won't 'correct itself overnight'

Friday, April 30, 2021
HPD chief says officer shortage won't fix itself overnight
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HPD chief responds to 13 Investigates analysis showing 700 crimes reported at a south Houston apartment in the last 15 months and the shortage of officers.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said he's considering the need for more officers near a south Houston apartment complex that is located in what 13 Investigates has identified as the most crime-ridden block across the city.

Our investigation found there were 700 crimes reported at Los Cabos Apartments in the last 15 months, but not enough officers proactively patrolling the streets. Despite the apartment complex spending tens of thousands of dollars on private security, crime is still occurring there every day.

"No one should live in a complex where crime is rampant like that," Finner told ABC13's Chauncy Glover on Friday. "I'll be looking at that apartment complex, but also other locations."

HPD Commander Matthew May, who oversees the area where Los Cabos is located, said the apartment complex drives 25% of all crime in his district.

WATCH: Bringing down Houston crime: HPD chief lays out detailed plan

On any given shift, May typically has between 12 and 16 officers in his entire 45-mile district of more than 155,000 residents, stretching from Clear Lake to Airport Boulevard, north of Hobby Airport.

"We have to do better in moving our resources and I know [Commander May's] doing the best that he can do out there, but that's where I need to step in, and other assistant chiefs, because we need to put more officers over there," Finner said.

RELATED: 13 Investigates analysis found one crime reported every 7 hours in this Houston neighborhood

Our investigation found it's not just that one neighborhood that needs officers, and not just that area that's seeing a rise in crime.

We analyzed all 316,000-plus crimes reported to HPD since January 2020 and found crime is up in 79% of Houston zip codes. Overall, there were 13% more crimes reported to HPD in 2020, compared to 2019.

Homicides were up 42% in 2020. Aggravated assault was up 31%.

Finner admits there's not enough police officers on staff.

Texas Commission on Law Enforcement data shows 5,246 HPD officers oversee more than 2.3 million residents. HPD has fewer officers than it did four years ago and less than some cities of similar size.

There's more than 13,000 officers in Chicago, where 2.7 million residents live, according to the latest FBI data from 2019. There's 10,000 officers in Los Angeles, where 4 million people reside.

"A lot of people have been talking about defunding the police and taking funds. We have a mayor and a city council that they didn't do that," Finner said. "They continue to fund us as best as they can, but this didn't happen overnight and it's not going to correct itself overnight."

Finner said despite the mayor approving six HPD academy classes for the next fiscal year, each class has a maximum of 75 cadets, leaving the department still short hundreds of officers.

"It's going to take some time to get caught up," Finner said. "You can't look for excuses and say, 'Well, you know what, I wish I had 1,000 more police officers. 'Yeah, every chief does, but what can you do with what you have? ... We got great police officers here in Houston and we're going to do a good job, but we need a lot of help from the public."

INTERACTIVE: Which zip codes saw the most increase in crime over the last year? Darker zip codes means more crime was reported. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

Finner said it is challenging to build trust with the community, but he hopes residents will recognize the role they can play in reducing crime, including reporting any suspicious activity.

"If our citizens are not feeling safer, that's a problem and that's a reflection on me, but I'm one person," Finner said. "If the citizens work with us, come in this crime fight with us, it's going to be a lot better."

One thing Finner said he always reminds residents of to help avoid becoming a victim of crime is to avoid the "deadly triangle."

"Being at the wrong location at the wrong time with the wrong people. If you remove one side of that triangle, you might be able to get out of that with your life and not be seriously injured," Finner said. "You're doing crazy things, with crazy people at a crazy time -- let's be a little bit smarter about it and let's just take care of one another."

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