Prospect of police cuts causes stir at Fort Worth City Hall

Posted Friday, Jul. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth Police are tentatively considering not filling any vacant positions next year in the search for citywide budget cuts, but no layoffs are contemplated, Chief Jeff Halstead said.

“We are planning on the vacant officer positions not being filled ... and relying on attrition to fill the next academy class,” Halstead said in an interview.

The city had 76 officer vacancies as of Wednesday, and the number has ranged between 68 and 83 in the last month, Halstead said.

The department’s civilian vacancies also would not be filled, as part of the department’s 5 percent general fund budget cut being contemplated today, Halstead said.

Early this year, with the department facing a $50 million general fund shortfall for the next fiscal year, City Manager Tom Higgins asked all department heads to submit lists of 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts for review, Halstead said. For the police, that amounted to $19.9 million.

Budget projections have changed since then with improving revenues and other factors, and virtually all departments are now being asked to shoulder 5 percent cuts, Halstead said. The police submitted theirs two weeks ago, Halstead said.

The city manager is expected to present the proposed 2014 budget to the City Council in August.

Potential police cuts caused a stir earlier this week when Sgt. Steve Hall, president of the Fort Worth Police Officer Association, told the City Council that 148 officer positions “are in jeopardy” and such a cut would “negatively impact the department’s ability to provide service.”

The police have nearly 1,600 officers.

Halstead said he didn’t know the basis for the POA’s 148 estimate, but said it likely came from within the figures for the original 10 percent, “very, very old information” that never went before the City Council, Halstead said.

“They have backed off,” Hall said in an interview. “Now they’re saying all they want to cut is vacancies.”

Mayor Betsy Price said the City Council hasn’t yet seen a draft of the city manager’s budget.

“We are committed at this point to not laying off any active officers,” she said.

Price said she anticipates a recommendation to not fill police vacancies. The department regularly runs a significant number and has struggled to keep up with regular attrition of 60-70 officers annually.

The police typically run two academy classes per year, graduating 20-24 officers apiece, and is building a public safety training center that should boost capacity to four recruiting classes per year.

“It’s hard for me to argue publicly we need every one of those” budgeted vacancies, Halstead said. “We cannot process them fast enough.”

Hall, in his presentation, questioned Price’s security costs, given budget cuts. The POA has had a rift with the mayor over the council’s major changes to the employee pension last year.

Price, like predecessor Mike Moncrief, has a detail of two police officers. But she packs her schedule, often going seven days a week, and her office is asking for a third officer.

Total compensation for Price’s detail was $263,000 in 2012, including base pay, overtime, longevity pay, medicare, health insurance, retirement contributions, and incentive pay, Jason Lamers, the mayor’s chief of staff, said.

Hall questioned the mayor’s need for a police officer to travel with her during international business trips, since the officers can’t carry firearms and their presence is diminished by their plain clothes.

Lamers said, however, that Price has represented D/FW Airport on those trips, most recently to Brazil, and the airport picks up expenses for the mayor and police.

“The only thing that’s not paid for is the officer’s salary,” Lamers said. “They would be working regardless.”

Hall said the city should consider shifting Price’s detail to the city marshal’s office, a crew of 58 peace officers that reports to the Municipal Court and serves minor warrants, transports prisoners, and handles city building security. The city would save $15,000 per year per officer on base pay, not including overtime, Hall estimated.

“I have complete confidence in the city marshal’s office,” Hall said.

Halstead said it’s easier for the police to handle the mayor’s detail.

“Historically, police have always done this function, and marshals historically have a distinctive mission to accomplish,” Halstead said. “It’s easier to find the two within the 1,600 (police officers) than to find two within the 58” marshals.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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