Wednesday, July 26, 2006

HPD chief says union poll clouded by biases

UPDATE: I found this response to the Chronicle's About:Chron blog article

New chief, old union, same story...

and thought it good enough to cut and paste it here!

Having followed this matter closely for some time, I can safely say that while the Chief may not be the anti-Christ some make him out to be, his management style is more of the same autocratic, big brother, he knows what's best that Houston Police have suffered through for decades. The union has made it clear that their biggest problem with him is that he refuses to listen, and compromise, on issues that really amount to minor glitches on the roadmap.

The Mayor addressed the pension crisis in such a manner that scores of highly trained officers simply retired rather than worry about losing benefits. Now the Chief talks about thwarting the will of the people in terms of being able to afford to hire replacements, using the tax referendum as his scapegoat.

Where has the Chronicle been when they should have been taking up their role as the fourth estate? We hear about officers working hundreds of hours of overtime as being a problem then the city initiates another overtime program to solve the problems of the day.

The infrastructure of the city is falling apart, from police radios, to patrol cars that wouldn't be fit for meter maid duty, to stations falling down around the officers yet the pressing issues for the Chief are tattoos, facial hair, and trying to find all new ways to use fear as the primary motivator. The officers are spread so thin that the citizenry better make preparations to take care of their own problems unless they want to wait for that lone police car that pulled up hours after the crime occured.

I learned long ago in the private sector that a teamwork approach works best in tough times. If the worst the officers did was give the Chief a slap on the nose using their survey, we can all count our blessings because the officers I've seen in the last year or two looked shell shocked and fatigued. There may be some of them that expect too much from an outsider and there will always be the sycophants who think the world is rosey no matter what happens but I think the Chronicle has dropped the ball yet again in this matter.

If anyone out there thinks this type of "leadership" is going to get their pleas for help answered faster than providing a decent workplace environment that will encourage people to join the ranks of HPD, by all means continue to live in that fantasy world until you're the one in need of help.

Posted by: Logan Villa at July 27, 2006 02:23 AM - HPD chief says union poll clouded by biases: "Hurtt: Union survey clouded by 'biases'
HPD's chief criticizes recent poll critical of his tenure, asks for fresh review
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said he wasn't against the idea of asking police officers for their opinion of his tenure at HPD but doubts a scathing survey released earlier this month by their union.

On Tuesday, Hurtt called for a third party — not connected to either side of the dispute — to conduct a fresh review.

'I think that would give us a more accurate, independent set of responses,' Hurtt said.

About 2,300 members of the Houston Police Officers' Union responded to the three-page questionnaire, with 75 percent expressing little confidence in the chief's leadership.

HPOU officials said the percentages were similar from the first-level supervisors — sergeants, lieutenants and captains — who were polled.

'This isn't just a bunch of whining, carping police officers — there's a real problem,' said Mark Clark, the union's executive director.

Hurtt said questions still remain, however, about the manner in which the survey was conducted.

'I think there were some biases as far as the presentation,' Hurtt said.

HPOU President Hans Marticiuc said he welcomed another poll of his members, provided their confidentiality could be assured.

"Do it," Marticiuc said. "If the survey reflects what we've shown, then get rid of him."

The shortage of officers on the street, Hurtt said, is a major morale issue for the department.

"We realize that we need to hire new people. We started that process, and we're very aggressive," he said.

As the city continues to grow, however, Hurtt said HPD will be hard-pressed to continue adding officers under a 2004 cap that limits the overall increase in city revenue.

"You can't do that," Hurtt said. "I think we have legislated ourselves into a position that's impossible for us."

HPOU leaders said there have been some positive changes within the department since Hurtt assumed the top position in 2004, including equipping officers with Tasers.

"The officers themselves were very supportive when he got here," Marticiuc said.

Marticiuc presented the findings to the City Council on Tuesday, spending about 40 minutes answering questions from members. In the end, they asked Mayor Bill White to call a meeting between both sides to iron out their differences.

"This doesn't make us comfortable to have a public fight like this," Clark said.

Friction between labor and management is common in any large organization, Hurtt said.

"Sometimes you may have questions about the people you deal with — and you have to do everything in writing — but the job still has to get done," Hurtt said.

I first wrote about this in the post The HPOU is Hurt Over Hurtt's Remarks. The results of the survey were recently published and I guess I'd like to link to a copy of them for anyone interested to read. It's in .PDF format.

I'm in a sticky situation concerning my feelings and remarks about both HPD and the Harris County Sheriff's Department because I'm a card carrying, proud alumni from both organizations Citizen Police Academy classes. As such one is asked to go forth and sing the praises of the departments and not slam their leadership. I'm all for singing, but my main concern has always been for the rank and file, the guys and gals in the trenches, if you will, the ones doing the day to day drudgery. I feel their pain with the current administration.

When the results of the survey were made public, the first words quoted out of Chief Hurtt's mouth were: Houston police Chief Harold Hurtt says much of the criticism leveled against him is unfounded. Wow! That'll show 'em! He also explained his position on beards: He says they interfere with gas masks which officers may someday be required to wear. So what's the deal with the tattoos then? What do they interfere with? Why order them to wear bulletproof vests in Houston's heat? Why not trust the individual officers to make their own decisions about wearing vests based on their particular working conditions? Why not treat them as adults capable of making intelligent decisions? When does a leader become a dictator?

In the meantime, he also says the limits in city revenues will hamper HPD's efforts to hire new officers to help relieve the burdens on the current crop of street working cops. Hmmm ... now I'm certainly no rocket scientist when it comes to the city coffers, but what's this talk about red light cameras, wi-fi for the masses, fancy parking meters for the homeless to piss upon and all the other hi-tech stupid ideas like the Danger Train? Is the rise in crime just a whim? Are the officers of HPD supposed to be cheered up with free wi-fi in their patrol cars? I'd like to see a survey on the citizens and HPD's confidence in Mayor White while they're at it. Clearly something has to give.

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