Second in a series

GALVESTON — Among the long-held conventional wisdoms about police department staffing is this: Since Galveston is a tourist town, demand for police service fluctuates sharply — it’s high in the summer and relatively low in the winter.

That assumption implies both a dilemma and, to some, an opportunity for policymakers. The dilemma is knowing how many police officers the city needs. The opportunity is that because Galveston’s population fluctuates in a predictable way, the staffing problem can be solved by hiring police officers off duty from other agencies to augment the local force during peak times.

Those part-time officers wouldn’t fall under the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union, proponents argue. They’d be cheaper and could be called in and let go as demand dictated.

But how well does the underlying assumption about service demand hold up, and would the benefits of deploying two classes of police officers outweigh what some say are clear and serious risks?    

The calls

“It’s just not true,” Police Chief Henry Porretto said about the underlying assumption. “Our calls for service are high all year long.”

A call for service occurs anytime somebody “calls the cops.”

“It’s everything from ‘Somebody stole my bicycle, and I want you to come take a report’ to very serious crimes,” Porretto said. “It’s anything that requires an officer’s attention.”

Island officers responded to 75,423 calls in 2013, according to the department. The number doesn’t include fire and emergency medical calls requiring police assistance for things such as traffic control.

League City police responded to 36,065 calls during the same period, according to the 2014 budget.

Calls to Galveston police peaked in March at 7,499 and hit the annual low of 5,085 in November.

Galveston Police Department is authorized to have 75 patrol officers. League City is authorized to have 80, officer Reagan Pena, department spokeswoman, said.

Those numbers mean that on average, Galveston patrol officers are responding each day to more than twice as many calls for service as their League City colleagues.

The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, Porretto said. Like all organizations, the police department must work around vacation time, sick leave, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act and mandatory training requirements that take officers off the street.     

‘From call to call’

The volume of calls for service has the department stretched thin, Porretto argues.

“We just run from call to call,” he said. “We don’t do traffic enforcement. We don’t investigate anything but major crimes.

“Our supervision is thin because we don’t have enough sergeants in the field.”

In June, the department requested an increase of about $600,000 to its $16.9 million budget to hire eight civilian support employees and four police officers.

Some of the new civilian hires would take over evidence gathering and record-keeping tasks, allowing sworn officers to be shifted back to patrol, Porretto said.

If the request were approved, the department might be able to increase the number of patrol officers by two or three, he said.

The four new officers would allow the department to increase the number of detectives in its narcotics division to seven from three, he said.

It would be a small step toward rebuilding the department’s investigative operations, which were sharply curtailed when the City Council voted a tax cut during fiscal  year 2010-11, he said.

“The result of that was everybody was shifted to patrol,” Porretto said.      

The department needed to bolster its narcotics efforts to counter a growing presence of methamphetamine on the island, Porretto said.

“It’s a small step, but it’s a proactive step,” Porretto said. “If you can stop, or at least slow the growth of narcotics, then all the ancillary crimes — the burglaries, the thefts, the robberies — will be reduced.”

Seasonal help

There are ways of meeting the demand for law enforcement without increasing the size of the department, however, Elizabeth Beeton said. Beeton, who served on the City Council for six years before leaving because of term limits and making an unsuccessful run for mayor, has long questioned growth in police department spending and advocated for using part-time officers.     

“We can’t continue to eat up all of our growing tax increment with operational spending,” she said. “There has to be a balance and using part-time or seasonal help is among the solutions we should consider.”

The part-time officers shouldn’t fall under the city’s collective bargaining agreement, she said.

“The department would need to set standards for experience and training and then begin looking for officers who would like to work here for extra income,” she said.

“We would not have to pay them collective bargaining rates, just market rates.”

The seasonal-help solution has been proposed many times in the past and by many people other than Beeton.

Short supply

The department was not completely opposed to using officers other than its own full-time staff in some cases, Porretto said. It has, for example, a roster of 17 reserve officers who work for free and would like to have even more. Qualified reserve applicants are few and far between, however, he said.

“Most are retired and a lot them can’t pass our physical fitness test,” Porretto said. “So they can’t be covered by our insurance, and so I can’t use them.”

Meanwhile, routinely using police from other agencies may be more difficult than advocates think, may not offer the savings they envision and comes with a set of downsides, city officials said.      

“I don’t believe there are that many officers available on peak weekends to truly supplement,” interim City Manager Brian Maxwell said. “When Galveston is jumping, so is Bolivar and the bay front.”

Off-duty officers available in the area already were working all sorts of lucrative side jobs on the island, he said.

“I wonder how much we would truly save if we had to match the hourly rate they get for extra jobs,” Maxwell said.

Management issues

Using part-time officers who are primarily employed elsewhere also presents managerial problems, Porretto said.

“You’ve got no control over an officer, no way to discipline him, except to fire him,” Porretto said. That lack of control would put the city at a greater risk of liability for police misconduct complaints.

“You just can’t run a professional organization like a lemonade stand,” he said.

Beeton, however, said she thought the increased risk argument was unfounded.   

“In truth, there is no liability,” she said. “Cities are essentially immune from liability for the actions of police officers.”

But attorney William S. Helfand of the Houston law firm Chamberlain Hrdlicka said the risk was real.

“I will tell you this, nobody, except maybe the attorney general, represents more law enforcement in Texas than this firm, and I have never heard of a department hiring part-time law enforcement,” Helfand said.

“I can see how that would create significant liability.”

Beeton’s assessment of municipal immunity was correct, but only for general tort claims, such as negligence, filed in state courts, Helfand said. The potential liability was in civil rights claims.

“There is absolutely no such thing as government immunity for claims under the Civil Rights Act,” Helfand, who has represented Galveston Police Department for 20 years, said. “There is great potential liability for law enforcement misconduct if it’s proven that it was from a city policy governing hiring, training or supervision of officers.”

Training and supervision

The seasonal-help idea has implications for at least two of those three — training and supervision.

“If you get a map, stick a pin in Houston and draw a 300-mile circle around it, Houston police department is going to be the best in that circle, probably in the state,” Helfand said. “But Galveston Police Department is a close second.”

Many law enforcement agencies will put officers to work once they have completed 769 state-mandated training hours.

But Galveston requires successful completion of another 240 hours of state approved in-house training before an officer can even begin the department’s Field Training Program, Porretto said. That program lasts about five months and must be successfully completed before prospective officers are allowed to work alone, he said.

“Galveston is a Class-A department in terms of hiring standards, training standards, professionalism and discipline,” Helfand said. “Why would you want to open a backdoor for officers coming from C- or D-level law enforcement agencies?”

Helfand said he thought using part-time officers would make it especially hard to keep “bad cops” off Galveston’s streets.

“What’s the police chief supposed to do if he thinks an officer got too rough making an arrest?” Helfland said. “Normally he might say, ‘I’m giving you five days off without pay to think about this.’ But if the officer doesn’t really even work for you ... You and I don’t want cops working for our cities that say, ‘I don’t care what they do to me.’

“If any chief in Texas called me and said, ‘I’m thinking about bringing officers in on an ad hoc basis,’ I would tell him not do that.

“I’m not even sure the civil service rules would allow it and, if they did, I would be very worried about doing it. I think it would be a major mistake.”

Contact Associate Editor Michael A. Smith at 409-683-5206 or

At a glance

Complaints against Galveston Police Officers are declining, according to Chief Henry Porretto.

  • 2011 — 129
  • 2012 — 55
  • 2013 — 28

The series

What you missed

June 29: The issue of police department staffing contains important civic questions about whether the city is doing right by its residents, its police employees, its other employees and its own future when it comes to public safety spending.

Coming up

What do you want? Galveston has no shortage of priority wants and needs. Where does public safety rank among rank-and-file residents?

SSI up close. GPD leaders say the Service Standard Index shows the department’s staffing is less than ideal. What is the SSI and what does it show?

The police budget up close. How does Galveston’s public safety spending compare to other cities, plus some interesting footprints on GPD’s budget.

Costs and benefits. Policing is expensive, but can effective public safety efforts save residents money and perhaps drive revenue?

These and more, only in The Daily News.


(9) comments

Richard Moore

This is turning out to be an excellent series. I am not “overwhelmed” by the numbers of police or firefighters in Galveston. As the series is showing, it is quite a complicated matter getting the resources aligned.

I am interested in the ratio of one of the statistics from the story on June 29th, and that is the ratio of “Police Reports take in 2013” (Reports) to “Arrests made in 2013” (Arrests). Logic tells me that you would have a report every time that you have an arrest. The time and effort for those reports where arrests are involved though must be quite a bit higher than a report without an arrest.

What I would like to see clarified though is the apparently high ration of the Arrests in Galveston compared to the Arrests in League City and Friendswood Combined. As indicated the data is as follows:

2013 Reports/Arrests –
Galveston- 8646/7281
League City and Friendswood Combined- 7435/4913

Stated simply, in Galveston 84% of the reports involved arrests while on 66% of the reports in League City and Friendswood combined. This make me wonder what it is about the data which causes the number of arrests in Galveston appear to be so high related to reports. Another thing which makes me question the info is that, according to the data presented, 100% of the reports in Friendswood involved an arrest, which must be some kind of anomaly.

Appreciate the author and the GPD for the overall series – it should help tax payers understand the costs involved in the public safety section of the budget.

Jim Casey

It's reasonable to hire officers from somewhere like Waxahachie or Nacogdoches for

Jim Casey

It's reasonable to hire officers from somewhere like Waxahachie or Nacogdoches for traffic control or crowd control during events like Mardi Gras. The Galveston police department currently does this.

HOWEVER, out-of-town officers may not be familiar with the street system (as regular as it is), or the local bad actors or trouble spots.

The article rightly points out that the actions of part-time officers may open the city to federal civil-rights lawsuits that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend, even if the city prevails.

- Jim

Robert Young

Galveston's is unlike most Texas cities. Especially during weekends, the population doubles on the weekends and during events. these extra folks are tourist. They aren't coming to galveston to sing in the church choir. These Houston area citizens come to party.. They bring in the moneybut not without cost. They are filling the restauraunts and bars creating jobs and additional tax revenue.

That business is what we want, but face the fact's, with the tourist boom comes some folks with alcohol and drug problems. Galveston needs to wake up and manage the situation. We need more Police officer's and EMT's. Pinching those tourist pennies at the cost of public the best way to run the tourist off. No one takes their family into a unsafe vacation spot. Galveston risks becoming a ghost town without adeqate police, fire and ambulance services. Since Porretto has been Chief the Galveston Police dept has been stable. The Chief apparently knows what he is doing. I say, give him the positions he ask for. I prefer the call for service measurement method myself. That is factual and based on Galveston's needs. Waxahachie, Temple or other Texas city comparisons are like comparing apples to oranges. Those cities do not have a Gulf beach and are not cities fed with tourist every weekend from a 4 million population just 45 minutes away.

Trudy Deen Davis

I don't understand the comment that GPD is "stretched thin" they "don’t do traffic enforcement"; they just "run from call to call". There were two motorcycle officers stopped in the middle lane of Seawall this summer on a Saturday no less monitoring inspection stickers and license tags. Wouldn't that be considered traffic enforcement? If indeed officers are only investigating "major crimes" then this information is inconsistent with what is actually occurring and appears inconsistent with the justification for the addition of officers. I am a strong proponent of law enforcement and giving them the resources they need, but I am struggling with these particular comments to reinforce the need for additional officers.

George Croix

Do League City and Friendswood have large short term influxes of drunk and/or doped up people...weekly?
Trying to run a first responder organization by comparing spreadsheets is not a good thing.
Another consideration, is something that the place where I worked struggled with re-learning, several times, for the nearly 4 decades I know of. Staffing is not, ideally, something you do for best case scenario, or even average case. It's something you do for worst case scenario, and if you don't, you find out the hard way when the worst case happens how much difference the additional hands would have made.
Once the kitchen is on fire, It's too late to go buy the fire extinguisher you saved money by not getting...
First responder protection costs a lot of money.
Not having it when sorely needed costs a lot more.
You see a couple of Policemen not actively engaged in chasing down a criminal.
Isn't that the idea - get to the point where there's less criem, because you have more policing?
When that happens, though, just like when thigns were running well at the plant, first thing somebody wants to do is cut staffing - again.
And, the cycle starts all over...

Miss Priss

I think Porretto has done a great job on communicating this issue to the public in approach to justifying hiring. While some industries can go part time help - I would think its hard to manage effectively and probably even harder to manage reserves. If any law enforcement leader has grown and is most visible in this county - it's been Porrretto. You never hear about the Sheriff's office being part of a solution anymore.
And by the way on any given weekend during most of the year, Galveston has about 100 k in population - easily visible. League city does not have that type of volume. They also have more families in the population with same economic conditions of a certain segment.

Seeing two traffic cops on a motorcycle writing non moving violation tickets is unfair assumption to make without knowing all the facts. It's the same assumption that I could make by seeing two - three sheriff's vehicles parked at a restaurant at the same time. Or the TC police setting speed traps on any morning but ignoring the buffoons drunk driving home of the beach on any given afternoon during the week.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Thinking outside the box! Yes sir, that's the key to potentializing our actualizations, changing the paradigm, expanding our synchronicities, and taking it to the next level all right. We can find our passion and live our passion!! We need a new Mission Statement to be on the cutting edge.

Out-of-town temps for police officers, hired part time, are still a bit costly. Let's just deputize pizza delivery drivers and florist drivers. We can really save some money then.

Or, why not even use inmates from the county jail! If they can pick up trash by the side of the road, they should do just fine as temporary policemen, how hard can it be?

And, just like out of town peace officers, they won't belong to the local police union. A special bonus (or maybe driving factor) in GDN approval of the plan.
I especially like the wisdom of planning around seasonal needs. Once we import the denizens of the public housing condos, every day will be Christmas!!!

william boney

"Penny wise, pound foolish" is an old saying and one i feel applies here. As for any input Beeton may have, it was clear at a city council meeting when she was on council, she didn't trust, nor did she want Porretto as Chief. Might add that Beeton's views were proven wrong. Under Porretto's leadership - complaints have dropped significantly and we've seen a transition to a professional police force, one that has added a number of innovative and unique programs including: encouraging citizen participation (Citizen's Police Academy), collection outstanding fines from municipal court fines (up) and the "Protect with Respect" program. This budget "increase" is no more that bringing the budget back to pre-Ike levels with and increasing population and growing tourism. If we are to hold our police department accountable, we should listen and value their insight and input, unless we wish to feed other law enforcement agencies with quality officers, have a less effective/professional police department, and experience again - all the bad stuff that comes along with it (diminished quality of service and increased crime).

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