GALVESTON — Citing a need for more officers to combat a growing drug problem in the city and to handle increased administrative tasks required by state law, the police department Monday asked the City Council to fund 12 new positions in next year’s budget.

The department requested a $1.16 million increase to its $16.9 million budget, of which $608,000 would pay for personnel costs. The department has 177 positions in the current budget with a total salary cost of about $13.9 million.

“We’re treading water right now,” police Chief Henry Porretto said. “We’re not attacking the root cause of crimes.”

The request includes money for four new officers that police officials said are needed to counter “an explosive growth in narcotic and meth activity on the island.”

The department’s narcotics team, staffed by three officers and a sergeant, made more than 400 arrests and seized more than 3,200 grams of methamphetamine in 2013, a 1,600 percent increase compared to the year before, police officials said.

The other eight positions would include three telecommunication operators, two crime scene technicians, a police fleet vehicle specialist and two employees responsible for record keeping.

District Attorney Jack Roady told the council that changes to state discovery laws had increased the amount of administrative work that needs to be done by both his and the police department’s staff.

The Michael Morton Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires prosecutors to release all evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence to defense attorneys. The law increased the amount of largely mundane work such as copying, storing and delivering documents that law enforcement agencies must do, Roady said.

Police Capt. Jeffery Heyse, who made the department’s budget pitch, said the department is still feeling the effects of layoffs made in 2010.

The proposal included civilian positions because officers are filling those support roles now, he said.

“We have officers in positions that officers don’t need to be in,” Heyse said. Making new civilian hires would allow officers to return to regular police duties, he said.

The department also proposed $350,000 for a vehicle storage facility and $200,000 for a police property room

The request has not been reviewed by the city’s finance department, Director Beth Free said.

After the request is reviewed, interim City Manager Brian Maxwell will decide whether to include it in his recommended budget to council.

Monday’s meeting included presentations from various city department managers about individual successes and needs. No decisions regarding the budget were made. The budget is expected to be passed in mid-September.

Maxwell said he asked department heads to give honest assessments of their needs in the budget, which has been held level in recent years.

Maxwell said he did not think the entire police department request would be in his recommended budget, but parts of it could be.

According to a budget primer produced for the council by the finance department, the city’s general fund is already poised to contribute new money to the police department this year. A grant the city received in 2012 to hire eight officers is set to expire Dec. 31. The city will have to budget $411,000 to pay for those positions.

The city is also expected to enter contract negotiations with police and fire unions this year, although that topic was not addressed in depth at Monday’s meeting.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

(6) comments

RonShelby
Ron Shelby

Here's a link to the Bureau of Justice Statistics regarding municpla law enforcement staffing levels. Maybe it will contribute to the conversation;

http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=71

Are there other options such as a DOJ grant for drug enforcement? Are we following the best practices now to combat drugs in galveston? Is this the best way to go?

RonShelby
Ron Shelby

Another Recent Article from Governing Magazine on municipal police staffing across the country with stats. As an example: Houston has 2.35 police officers per 1,000 population. So. The question is. Is the island's drug problem worse than Houston's, justifying a higher number of officers? Even during peak tourist season?

http://www.governing.com/gov-data/safety-justice/law-enforcement-police-department-employee-totals-for-cities.html

Jarvis Buckley

It appears they feel a crime surge coming

JBG JBG

The BLUE FLU? No such thing....no such thing!!!!! [smile][wink]

JBG JBG

Oh shoot!!!!! I could have made that a 50 liner![smile]

Don Ciaccio

The problem is Chief Poretto. His mismanagement of the department is well known. The city manager should fire him and promote someone like Lieutenant Michael Gray that has the knowledge to run the department. We don't need more officers. We need someone that knows his to make the department run efficiently.

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