BY T.F. STERN
The public is starting to realize that using the Police Department as a ‘whipping boy’ for all the ills of society has consequences. An article by Melanie Torre of CBS Austin relates some of the safety issues associated with cutbacks to police services.
“The Austin Police Association says understaffing is causing 911 calls to go hours without a response.
According to APA president Ken Casaday, Saturday night some shifts were staffed at just 50 percent.”
A little further in the article more information was shared:
“Casaday says — on the shifts he’s worked– the department has enough officers to respond to Priority 0 calls. According to Casaday, Priority 0 includes shootings, stabbings, assaults and serious crashes. He explains, Priority 1 calls are where there’s been a delay. Priority 1 calls include criminal trespass, simple assault and non-active burglaries.”
Citizens requesting police service might see this as a minor inconvenience since really important calls are being handled in a timely manner. Being told that you’ll have to wait an hour to file a burglary report or some other non-life-threatening incidents might not be as bad as all that.
The City Council in Austin decided to cut-back police services and payroll; and, after all, slower response time goes with the territory. These measures were taken to make a bold statement, that police brutality, shooting suspects without cause and such won’t be tolerated. Other major metropolitan cities like Portland, Oregon have taken a similar stance.
To be sure, those municipalities which are making such drastic cuts in police services have turned their police departments into political footballs with little regard for either the safety of their law-abiding citizens or for the police officers performing these important services.
Several years ago, prior to my retirement from the Houston Police Department we were considerably understaffed; perhaps matching the observation made by APA president Ken Casaday, working with roughly 50 percent of the number of police officers needed.
One Friday night prior to the beginning of our shift several of us were in the kitchen area of the police sub-station enjoying ice cream bars donated by the local Borden Creamery. An Assistant Chief of Police entered and I recognized and welcomed him informally to the younger officers who might not have known who he was since he wasn’t in uniform. I asked if he was here in an official capacity or was it simply a casual visit.
His answer was polite; but hinted at something he had on his mind. “I’ll wait until Roll Call when I can address everyone at the same time.” He smiled as if he had been dealt a winning poker hand, not wishing to tip his cards just yet.
I responded directly, “Then you might as well tell us now; this is the entire shift you’ll be addressing.” There were only six of us in the room. Consider the area we were assigned to patrol on a Friday night in Houston, Texas, an area that stretched from the 610 Loop out to the city limits between the I-10 corridor and Highway 290. That’s a two-man unit and a one-man unit in Four District and the same in Five District, four police patrol units to cover the area equal to Rhode Island. In layman’s language, don’t get into any situation that requires a back-up unit, there won’t be any, none.
The cheerful countenance the Assistant Chief had upon entering quickly vanished as the reality of our being understaffed well below anything reasonable landed on his mind. Originally, he’d planned to give us some kind of Pep-talk; but we’ll never know since he changed his remarks, sounding more like an apology for putting us in harm’s way without sufficient manpower should anything, anything at all go badly.
My retirement date came up a couple of years later and it’s with great pride that I display a shadow-box hanging on the wall of my office, a small reminder of my twenty years of service as a police officer. I also am well aware of the dangers each police officer faces, a danger multiplied to an unacceptable level when those they work for don’t like police officers in general or appreciate the hazards that go along with that job.
One line that most officers are familiar with is shared at the end of each Roll Call prior to hitting the streets. It’s both a warning and a reminder, “Y’all be careful out there”.
Self-Educated American, Senior Editor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Houston police officer and, most recently, a retired self-employed locksmith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted political and social commentator. His popular and insightful blog, T.F. Sterns Rantings, has been up and at it since January of 2005.