Police chief’s plan to cut budget by not filling vacancies seems reasonable

Posted Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Fort Worth city budget is facing a shortfall next fiscal year and all departments, including police and fire, are expected to share the burden by reducing expenses.

Earlier this year, the city’s chief financial officer predicted a $50 million deficit in the general fund for next year and asked all departments to identify 10 percent reductions in their budgets. Since then, the financial picture has improved a bit through additional revenue and other factors, but a shortfall still looms.

With departments now being asked to find 5 percent cuts, Police Chief Jeff Halstead has decided to achieve that goal by not filling any vacant positions for the coming year, a decision that has drawn criticism from the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.

Sgt. Steve Hall, the association’s president, argues that such cuts in the budget and staffing will have a negative impact on the department’s ability to provide sufficient service. It is not a new argument for the POA; its leaders have consistently fought attempts to cut practically anything in the department, regardless of budget constraints.

Halstead’s plan makes sense for the 1,600-officer force, which has trouble keeping up with the annual attrition rate of 60 to 70 commissioned personnel annually. The police academy normally graduates two cadet classes a year, which produce 20 to 24 officers each.

The association insists the department could make other cuts, embellishing that argument with the claim that too much money is spent on Mayor Betsy Price’s security force. Like her predecessor, Price is assigned two officers for security.

Because she is one of the most active mayors in the city’s history, making appearances throughout the day and night seven days a week, she requires more security just to cover her incredibly busy schedule.

Hall’s concern about the expense of security traveling with the mayor on international trips representing Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is a non-issue. Travel expenses for theofficers are paid by the airport, with the city paying their salaries as it would if they stayed home.

The mayor needs security and the $263,000 spent last year cannot be regarded as exorbitant.

Rather than complaining and looking for some manufactured waste in the department, the POA ought to work with the chief to identify other ways to cut expenses.

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