View original article at the Houston Herald.
To say that personnel with the Houston Police Department were busy in 2022 could easily be called an understatement.
Officers were dispatched 9,127 times during the year.
“We had a lot of calls last year,” said HPD Chief Brad Evans. “It was very hard to keep up.”
Even with a full staff, that kind of load would present a challenge. But it was even harder to deal with because the department was short-handed for most of the year, with as few as six or seven officers on the roster. A full staff would include nine officers.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve had over the past year – or two years, really,” Evans said. “We’re always playing catch-up; it seems like every time we hire that ninth guy, someone leaves. We’d like to have two guys on 24-7, but that hasn’t been the case.”
HPD officers work 12-hour shifts.
“We have overlapping shifts,” Evans said, “and we try to schedule things so there’s more coverage during the busy times. But these guys are often working by themselves.”
Steps are being taken to rebuild the roster to its ideal level, as two are currently enrolled at the Law Enforcement Training Institute (or Academy) in Columbia, another will be there later this year after recovering from a major injury, and applications are being accepted for at least one more officer.
“The guys at the Academy are excelling there,” Evans said. “We hope to have them on the road by the second week of May.”
Run by the University of Missouri Extension, the Academy involves a 15-week process. In exchange for a five-year contract, the City of Houston foots the bill for enrollees’ tuition, pays them an hourly wage while they’re training and provides all necessary equipment.
“We like to have officers who have gone through the Academy,” Evans said. “They come here without bad habits and are well prepared.”
Four HPD officers are under such a contract – one current and three future.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
As the overall load steadily increases year after year, so do the numbers of cases in certain categories. In 2022, the HPD saw a notable rise in drug-related arrests, thefts, animal control issues, driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. There were even two homicide cases inside city limits.
“I attribute the drug arrests directly to the hard work of our officers,” Evans said. “A lot of those cases came from traffic stops; the guys are getting a lot of drugs off the street.”
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Traffic citations were down in 2022, but for a very good reason, Evans said.
“The officers were so busy responding to calls,” he said, “that they didn’t get to spend as much time with traffic duties.”
In addition to answering calls and patrolling roadways, HPD officers must find time to write reports. And with more call volume comes more reports.
“Report writing takes up a lot of time,” Evans said. “Officers do have computers in their cars, and that helps because they can jot down stuff as they go, but they still spend a lot of time sitting behind a computer doing their paperwork.”
The HPD benefits from receiving one-fourth of the revenue generated by a one-cent sales tax approved by voters a few years ago. Evans said funds from the tax are integral in keeping the department stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and helps tremendously with allowing officers to take part in various training opportunities.
“The tax has been great for us,” Evans said. “It’s a benefit to the community to have well-trained officers who can use that knowledge to help the people. And our guys don’t want for much.”
Evans said officer J.D. Jordan will soon take a defensive tactics class and will become the department’s instructor in that area. Thanks to other training courses, Sgt. Travis Thompson is the HPD’s firearms instructor, while Jordan and Thompson are both certified pepper ball gun instructors. Officer Jordan Goodwin (who will be leaving the agency in just over a month to join the Wright County Sheriff’s Department, but will remain on as a reserve officer) is a certified drug-recognition expert, and later this year an officer will become a certified Taser instructor.
“Having officers trained in these areas is a huge benefit to us,” Evans said.
Evans himself continues training, and completed the Missouri Police Chiefs Association Command College last year. Woodmansee will begin taking courses in the college in November.
The HPD’s fleet has improved since the passing of the sales tax.
Vehicles currently being used include a 2023 Ford Explorer with the Police Interceptor package that was obtained last week, along with a 2021 Dodge Charger, a 2020 Ford F-150 pickup, a 2019 Dodge Charger, a 2019 Ford Police Interceptor, a 2019 Ford Police Package Sedan two 2018 Ford Police Interceptors and one 2017 Dodge Charger.
“They’re all handling well,” Evans said.
A department policy initiated last year allows officers who live within five miles of city limits to drive their patrol vehicles home.
“We started that as an incentive to attract and retain officers,” Evans said. “That’s been a positive thing for our guys and they were very happy about it. One said it was like getting a raise because he saves on fuel costs.
“And it reduces response time because they can respond from their homes when they need to.”
All current HPD officers live within that five-mile radius.
“And that’s what we want,” Evans said. “We service people within that five miles as well.”
K-9 ADDITION WORKING NICELY
Early last year, the HPD added a canine officer: Omen, a Belgian Shepherd obtained from a K-9 facility in Arkansas.
The dog is handled by officer Adam Stevenson and has quickly become a valuable asset.
“He’s fantastic,” Evans said. “He’s a very hard worker.”
Omen is trained to find drugs, but is also capable of tracking. Last summer, he successfully tracked down a suspect who had almost stuck an officer with a vehicle.
“The suspect bailed out of the vehicle a few miles out of town,” Evans said. “We called the K-9 in and he was able to track him down over a very large area.”
Omen has also assisted the Texas County Sheriff’s Department and Licking Police Department (which has a K-9 unit trained in drugs but not tracking).
Evans said the HPD has a good relationship with every law enforcement agency in the area.
“Everyone works so well together here,” he said. “That’s huge, especially when you’re short-handed.”
THE STATE OF THE HPD
Evans feels like the department is running as smoothly as could be expected in these unusual times.
“I believe our officers enjoy working here and they enjoy the community,” he said. “And the community is behind them 100-percent; they show that to us all the time, which is great.”
HPD officers are off every other weekend.
“They like that a lot,” Evans said, “because they can plan around that schedule and have time with their families. And if a guy needs to be off, they’re great about letting me know in advance and other guys are great about switching shifts.”
HPD officers receive full medical insurance for their entire family.
“That’s a huge incentive for them to work here,” Evans said.
The bottom line is, while policing is different than in years past, it’s also probably more important.
“We stay busy,” Evans said. “Every year you see more and more need for police officers, and it takes a special person to do it. But I think we have a great group of guys working here, and they really care about what they’re doing.”
Chief: Brad Evans
Lieutenant: Matt Woodmansee
Sergeant: Travis Thompson
School Resource Officer: Josh Green
K-9 handler: Adam Stevenson
Officers: Jordan Goodwin, J.D. Jordan
Reserve officers: Dustin Hartman, Terry Wolfe
THE HPD IN 2022
Calls for service
(With 2021 totals)
Total dispatched calls: 9,127 (8,401)
Public assists: 1,864 (1,499)
Thefts: 195 (160)
Burglary: 26 (26)
Animal control: 444 (320)
Animals to pound: 86 (62)
Warnings: 1,815 (1,830)
Citations: 801 (916)
Felony: 271 (166)
Misdemeanor: 532 (427)
Murder: 2 (1)
Resisting arrest: 16 (7)
Possession of controlled substance: 69 (47)
Weapons violation: 22 (12)
Assault: 7 (7)
Stalking: 6 (0)
DWI: 41 (30)
Protection order violations: 21 (8)
Stealing: 85 (78)