The City of Houston’s police officers once again had a busy task in 2016, but in the end handled fewer cases requiring written reports than the previous year.
According to Houston Police Department Chief Tim Ceplina, the city’s six officers combined to generate 686 written reports last year, down from a record 718 in 2015 but much higher than the 600 recorded in 2014 (a record-high at the time).
“We had increases in some areas and decreases in other areas – which is good,” Ceplina said. “Overall, though, it wasn’t a bad year.”
Ceplina – who is in the middle of his second year as HPD chief – said one of the ongoing issues facing Houston police is domestic violence. Officers dealt with 81 such cases in 2016, including 24 assaults.
“There’s no good way for us as a police department to try to reduce that,” Ceplina said. “The best way is through education – educating the population about what domestic violence is, how to avoid it and how to get away from it if you find yourself in the middle of it. We don’t have the manpower to conduct city-wide classes; that’s for the home and churches and schools.”
Theft remained a common issue for Houston police with 160 incidents reported, totaling more than $45,000 worth of property. Ceplina said more than $13,000 worth of swiped goods were recovered.
“And we had charges on lots of the unrecovered property,” he said. “That includes property that is rendered unsalable or is destroyed by the suspect, or has gone out of the area or is hidden and not to be found. So we had about two-thirds case clearance on our thefts. That’s pretty darn good.”
Three vehicles were reported stolen in Houston in 2016, and all three were recovered. Going into last year, Ceplina set a goal of reducing traffic crashes in Houston, and promised that officers would focus more on traffic. It worked, as accidents were down from 164 in 2015 to only 104 last year.
“We made specific efforts to increase traffic enforcement,” Ceplina said, “and we had a reduction in accidents of better than 45-percent. That’s a big number and we’re very proud of that.
“And that was with a work zone in our community for a couple of months. Several of those accidents took place in that work zone, so without it, I believe the number would have been even less.”
Drug crime in Houston remained about the same, with marijuana and manufacturing cases down but other types up.
“Prescription pills is still a big thing we see,” Ceplina said.
This year promises to provide challenges of a different sort for the HPD, as new mandates have been put in place with regard to the Peace Officer Standards and Training program (P.O.S.T.).
“That’s going to require us to create our own in-service training and submit that to P.O.S.T. for approval,” Ceplina said. “Then after they give the approval, we can go ahead with our own classes. That will help save us some money in our training budget, but it becomes a manpower issue to fit in more time for training.
“But we’ll make do and do our jobs to the best of our ability.”
Ceplina said the HPD’s fleet of vehicles is doing fine, with the exception of one older Ford Crown Victoria patrol car.
“We have two that we could stand to be replaced, but there’s one that needs it immediately,” he said, “and that’s going to be taking place.”
The probable replacement, Ceplina said, is one of two Ford Police Interceptors recently made available by the Missouri State Highway Patrol (a 2014 and a 2015 model).
Ceplina said the department did “pretty good” with personal equipment maintenance and upgrades in 2016. Officers each received bulletproof vests late in the year.
“That’s nothing but a solid investment in officer safety,” Ceplina said.
One big positive from last year, Ceplina said, was that assaults on officers decreased from five in 2015 to only one.
“I attribute that to two things: One is increased awareness by the officers, and two is our community,” he said, “The officers are doing a good job paying attention and trying to spot signs of impending violence when they’re working, and we have a community with a lot of very strong supporters of law enforcement.” The HPD’s officers are in year three of using body-mounted cameras.
“They’ve been a very good tool for us and have allowed us to several things,” Ceplina said. “They allow us to chart the progress of officers as they develop through their careers, give us verification if we have a complaint and allow us to document evidence when we’re at a scene. In the beginning, I was a naysayer. But the body cameras have proved me wrong and been very useful.”
In December, the HPD scored 100-percent in a Missouri Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) audit which evaluates all aspects of a department’s reporting procedure.
“They look at everything,” Ceplina said. “We’re pretty proud of a perfect score.”
Ceplina hopes to see more community involvement in 2017 regarding the domestic violence issue.
“I would love to see some organizations help us combat the issue,” he said. “Again, it’s a matter of education.”
In general, Ceplina said he’s satisfied with the state of the Houston Police Department.
“I couldn’t be happier with the effort the officers put forth in 2016,” he said. “They made me proud, they made the city proud and they made it a safer place to live – and that’s our goal. And I couldn’t be happier with the support we get from the city and the community.
“We try to do our best and be professional – and that’s something I hold close to my heart. I’ve said it before: “I’d put these officers up against officers any place in America for their quality and skill.”
Ceplina said he has no solid expectations for 2017, but is hopeful that written reports might drop again.
“In this line of work, you have a different job every day, and you never know what’s coming your way,” he said. “There’s an old saying: ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’ That’s what we do every day.”
“There’s an old saying: ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’ That’s what we do every day.”
HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF TIM CEPLINA
THE HPD IN 2016
• Written reports: 686
• Felony arrests: 134
• Warrant arrests: 161
• Misdemeanor arrests: 377
• Sex crimes: 5 (3 rape, 1 statutory sodomy, 1 sexual misconduct)
• Traffic citations: 357
• Traffic warnings: 888
• Thefts investigated: 160