Nearly a month into his first term in office, Houston Mayor John Whitmire is calling for a merger of the Houston Police Department and the Houston METRO Police.
Hearkening back to the days when Houston’s airport police and park police were rolled into the Houston Police Department, Whitmire says he hopes to complete the merger in the next few months. He acknowledged there will be hurdles such as reconciling issues of pension, pay, and overall finances, but says he has full confidence in HPD Chief Troy Finner to oversee the merger.
In a statement, Sanjay Ramabhadran, METRO’s board chairman, said:
We look forward to working on the details of Mayor Whitmire’s proposal. The Metro Police Department has long partnered with other law enforcement agencies, including HPD. It is always good to see what more we can do for public safety. The mechanics of it need work when you are talking about departments, service areas, labor, and pension matters. As an agency, we are committed to seeing what all we can do. There is the decision to say we should collaborate and merge, and then there are the nuts and bolts of it. At the end of the day, we are all dedicated to public safety.
There would also need to be a plan for METRO’s current coverage of areas along transit lines that are not within the City of Houston.
Whitmire’s move follows a long history of public calls for consolidation, or at least more cooperation, between the region’s dozens of law enforcement agencies.
If successful, the move would add roughly 300 officers to HPD. While the former METRO officers would still patrol transit lines, they would also patrol surrounding neighborhoods. Whitmire also said it would save money in the long run by reducing the duplication of support systems for the departments.
Outside of the police merger, other major policy shifts announced by Whitmire over the past few days have been that the administration is nearing a settlement with the Houston firefighters over an 8-year-long pay dispute. He also signaled a shift in the city’s homeless policy, saying homeless people in Houston don’t have the right to “camp out on the streets,” so his administration would be rolling out new policy to address that.