DOJ Grant Means New Cops for Houston

Houston will be able to hire fifty new police officers thanks to an almost 10-million dollar grant from the Department of Justice. As Wendy Siegle reports, the money comes at a good time for a department struggling to hire new recruits.

Depending on who you ask, the Houston Police Department is between 1600 and 5000 thousand officers short right now. Retiring officers have outpaced cadet classes for quite some time, leaving the 54-hundred officer department starved for manpower at times. The grant will pay for 50 new officers over the next three years and require the city to fund a fourth year. Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli says community policing is a critical part of making residents feel safe.

"You and I know what it means to have another officer walking a beat. It means a store owner feels a little bit better about opening a store or keeping a story open a little later. It means the folks who work at that store feel more comfortable walking home or maybe stop to do a little shopping in the evening. It means that people are willing to make an investment in a community, to rent an apartment or buy a home because it feels like a place where they might want to make their life." 

Mayor Annise Parker says the city has struggled to maintain its funding for public safety during tough economic times. Other big cities in Texas have either laid-off or furloughed officers over the past several years. She says the grant comes at a great time.

"This isn't  money that replaces money that we spend. This is money that is in addition to what we spend. This is 50 new officers on the streets of Houston for the next three years with the funding to make sure that they can do the job that we need them to do." 

The Houston money is part of a larger, almost 300-million dollar Department of Justice grant to departments in all 50 states. Only abut 10-percent of the law enforcement agencies who applied for the money were given any.  Houston applied last year, but was passed over. Gary Blankenship is the president of the Houston Police Officers Union.

"Texas was a little slighted in the first round with the stimulus money and thanks to some of our congressional leaders who really stirred-up a fuss in Washington to get us included in the second round. It's a big thing. I'm very thankful to our congressional team in Washington that stepped-up to the plate for law enforcement."  

Houston was one of only five communities nationwide that were given the maximum amount under the grant program. For the second year in a row, Harris County applied for the law enforcement grants, but was denied.