When City Council member C.O. Bradford noticed that only 20 percent of Houston cops actually lived in Houston, he set out to start fixing that. He thought that more cops living within city limits might improve the police-community relationship and build up citizens' trust in law enforcement. Bradford drew up a "residency incentive program," which HPD drafted and presented to council members in July after the Houston Police Officers Union reviewed it.
The plan was to give $25,000 to officers who voluntarily move to "high-service districts" (a.k.a. high-crime districts) within city limits for at least three years. The $25,000 would go toward the officer's purchase of a house, and if he or she were to move out before the three years were up, the officer would have to repay that money. HPD has asked for $5 million, enough to help 200 officers move into the Houston city limits by 2019.
But because council members couldn't agree on what that incentive program should ultimately look like, they sent it back to the drawing board Wednesday.
Bradford, Houston's former police chief, voiced the most concern, disagreeing with essentially any restriction in the policy. While council member Brenda Stardig supported requiring officers to buy their homes so they would be more likely to continue living there, Bradford found the requirement too binding. He thought it might deter officers from making the move — along with the requirement that they would have to "repay" any of the incentive money if they moved out before the three years were up.
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But perhaps his biggest issue was that the policy required officers to move to high-crime areas. When he originally thought of this incentive program, he only intended to move officers across the city line in general — not confine them to crime-ridden districts. He proposed Wednesday that, instead, the policy should only specify officers move to certain Houston ZIP codes. "Who wants to live in a high-crime area? No one," he told council. "That's not what this is about." He told the Houston Press that he believes that HPOU may have misunderstood the goal of the program when it drafted the proposal.
Yet according to Douglas Griffith, vice president of HPOU, the union would support expanding the program more broadly to the ZIP codes. But if City Council wanted to do that, he said, council members would have to run that by the union first (which is exactly what Bradford proposed they do).
And while Griffith said that the union supports any policy that might improve officers' relationship to the communities they police, he doesn't think this residency incentive program will necessarily do that. He called it a “feel-good program for Bradford,” and said that simply relocating officers wouldn't improve their relationship with the people they serve. Instead, Griffith would rather see $5 million spent on recruiting more officers. That way, Griffith said, officers wouldn't have to hustle from call to call as constantly as they do now and could spend more time interacting with the community. “Until we can get more officers on the streets, then all these feel-good programs aren't going to work,” he told the Press. “We gotta have boots on the ground to be able to go out there and engage with the community.”
That's part of the reason Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, while still supportive of the program, suggested that maybe the city should shift some of the focus away from pulling suburban-based officers into the city and instead reallocate some of that $5 million to go toward "aggressively recruiting" cadets who already live in city limits. Those cadets, he said, wouldn't need any incentive to move in the first place.