The Houston Police Department shopped a plan to council members Tuesday that would give officers up to $25,000 each to live in certain high-crime police districts. Executive Assistant Police Chief Michael Dirden told council's public safety committee that putting officers in those neighborhoods could improve community-police relations and maybe even lower crime.
The plan, Dirden says, is to get about 200 HPD officers to move to neighborhoods with “high service demands,” the euphemism HPD brass likes to use in lieu of labeling neighborhoods “high-crime.” Dirden identified ten police districts (districts 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 19, which you can see on this HPD beat map) that he says have the highest rate of so-called “Part I” crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft) and some of the highest calls for service in the city.
Currently, only about 20 percent of HPD's 5,300 officers live within city limits. While other cities have in the past adopted rules forcing officers to live within the city they patrol, Dirden says residency requirements across the country have largely vanished due to court challenges. The city has no plans to pursue a residency requirement, he says, but rather wants to "incentivize" cops to live in neighborhoods that — according to HPD, anyway — could use the regular presence of an officer.
Dirden says there's good reason to provide incentives for cops to live in the city they police. The idea, he insists, isn't to better police certain neighborhoods but to build a better relationship between citizens and cops. “When there is a police officer in a neighborhood and a police officer that is actively involved in that neighborhood, that has a positive effect on the relations between police and folks in that neighborhood, which improves relations overall in the city of Houston,” Dirden told council members.
But then Dirden added this part, which sorta makes the whole plan sound like just another policing effort: “It's about establishing contact between the officer and the citizens of Houston. Contact leads to communication. Communication leads to the building of trust. Building of trust leads to the exchange of information.”
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Under the plan, HPD would ultimately give some 200 officers up to $25,000 each to buy a house in one of those “high service demand” neighborhoods, which the officers would have to live in for at least three years. At-Large Councilman Jack Christie gushed over the plan (“Just the presence of that police car in the neighborhood will deter crime”), provided that the city help officers find charter or private school options so they don't have to send their kids to crappy local public schools (“Eliminate the deficit of that officer not wanting to go to that local school,” Christie said).
Other council members called HPD's plan as proposed much too limited. District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig says she wants something that will get as many as half of Houston police officers to live in the city – she didn't offer even a general idea as to how the city might do that, however. Stardig also criticized HPD for using calls-for-service data to determine where they want officers living, saying some people “abuse the system” by calling 911 too often, while others, presumably in her district, are more “frugal” with their calls to police.
At-Large councilman C.O. Bradford, himself a former HPD police chief, was perhaps the most critical of the current plan, saying the requirements Dirden laid out – that officers have to live in “high service demand” (aka high-crime) neighborhoods for at least three years to keep the full $25k – threaten to “kill the program.”
“This is too complex, too complicated,” Bradford said. “This is not about officers policing certain areas, it's not about a police officer's presence in certain areas, it's about a police officer living in and becoming a part of the city of Houston.”