Houston Police Department Chief Tim Ceplina, left, and Sgt. Matt Woodmansee stand in front of the agency's new 2019 Dodge Charger patrol vehicle. Both officers are sporting the department's new look, complete with new bullet-proof tactical vests and lightweight long sleeve shirts, along with updated body cameras and radios.

To say that the Houston Police Department was busy in 2019 would be somewhat of an understatement.

HPD officers and three reserves combined to produce a department record 892 written reports during the year, a huge increase from the 654 in 2018 and far more than the previous record of 716 in 2017.

“Last year was a big, big year,” said HPD Chief Tim Ceplina. “There was a lot of work to be done.”

The HPD fielded a whopping 7,786 service calls in 2019, far more than the 4,950 in 2018 and more than all other municipal law enforcement agencies in Texas County combined.

“These days, we just go from call to call to call,” Ceplina said. “Of course, some of them are minor and some of them are civil, but they’re still things the public needs and that people call us for assistance on, and we’re always going to respond.

“The bottom line is, we’re here for the people.”

HPD officers conducted 1,600 traffic stops in 2019, resulting in 544 citations and 1,509 warnings.

“That’s about what we usually do,” Ceplina said. “The guys have no quota, but we usually have a ratio of about one ticket for every three to four traffic stops. But there’s something called the ‘halo effect,’ which means that when you increase traffic enforcement, you catch other crimes. That’s something we have every intention of continuing.

“It’s a tool to use to make our community safer.”

The HPD dealt with 40 driving while intoxicated cases in 2019, twice as many as in 2018. Officers responded to 127 traffic accidents last year, almost the same as the 129 in 2018. Ceplina said many more traffic complaints were received last year regarding incidents on U.S. 63 due to the widening of the roadway.

“A good portion of that could be because the lanes are narrower,” he said. “And then there’s the merge where it goes back to two lanes. I want to urge people to use caution at the merge; it’s not a racetrack or a competition to get the end of the highway. Be courteous and drive with common sense.”

The HPD saw a major increase in domestic violence last year, as officers worked 138 such cases, up from 59 in 2018. The total included 19 cases resulting in people being charged.

“That’s huge in a town of our size,” Ceplina said. “I think a lot of that is related to the problems that exist related to drugs and alcohol, and I think some of it is related to income and the lack of opportunities. But bringing in more jobs – and better paying jobs – into our area is something the city is trying to work on.”

There were also 30 weapons-related calls (including 13 actually involving weapons, suicidal people or people making threats), along with one kidnapping, one rape, five stalkings, two incidents of child pornography and a terroristic threat complete with an explosive device in a vehicle at the school district.

“That number of weapons is a big deal, too,” Ceplina said. “Not only is that a huge risk to the public, but to the officers as well.”

The past year saw only one assault on an HPD officer. Ceplina said that’s in large part due to scheduling more than one officer on as many shifts as possible, and assistance provided by other agencies like the Texas County Sheriff’s Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol.

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“Our officers are very good at backing each other up on calls,” Ceplina said, “and the county deputies and troopers are very good at providing backup, too. When one of our guys answers a call, it’s not unusual for an officer from another department to show up and have their back. From my department’s point of view, that’s greatly appreciated.”

The HPD worked 169 theft reports in 2019, most of which were cleared. Officers made 252 felony arrests last year, along with 573 misdemeanor arrests.

There were also 194 warrant arrests.

“That’s huge,” Ceplina said. “It shows that we’re paying attention to every new warrant issued. We also pick up a lot of arrests from the private and state probation offices in town.”

Local drug crimes also increased drastically in 2019, as HPD officers worked 49 felony possession cases, up from 29 the previous year.

“That’s where we’re talking about methamphetamine, opiates and prescription drugs that someone has who isn’t supposed to,” Ceplina said. “That’s a huge increase.”

HPD officers served eight search warrants in 2019, many of which led to additional search warrants at the county level.

“We understand that drugs is a problem in our community,” Ceplina said, “and we’re actively trying to root them out. We want the criminals to understand that if you’re in the drug trade in this area, we’re looking for you.”

WHAT’S NEW IN 2020

Toward the beginning of this year, the HPD acquired a new 2019 all-wheel-drive Dodge Charger, which is now part of the agency’s fleet.

Some HPD officers are sporting new uniforms featuring bullet-proof tactical vests and lightweight long sleeve shirts, and all of the department’s officers will soon be wearing them. One of the biggest advantages of the vests is that most of an officer’s equipment is no longer attached to the traditional belt, meaning the weight of the gear is supported by the upper body rather than the lower back.

The interior of the HPD’s new 2019 Dodge Charger, including one of the agency’s new mobile tablets.

“It would be great if some of the younger officers never develop the back issues that some of us older officers have,” Ceplina said. “We’ll still maintain our class B uniforms for court appearances and things like that, but these new uniforms are professional looking and the officers love them. And we’ve already had lots of positive feedback on them from the community.”

Technology continues to improve at the HPD, and officers are now equipped with mobile tablets that can be operated at a desk in the station or inside a patrol vehicle.

“They’ve replaced every computer in the department,” Ceplina said. “They’re rugged and they’re portable, and the guys can now do almost everything inside their vehicle.”

The HPD is also switching from the traditional Uniform Crime Report database (UCR) to the newer National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The new system includes more information about various statistical subjects.

“It’s a lot more complete and accurate,” Ceplina said, “and it’s crime stats we can use.”

Last April, voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to benefit Houston’s police, fire and parks and recreation departments. The added revenue will allow HPD officers to partake in more training, Ceplina said, including at the instructor level.

“Then they can bring what they know back to the department and train the rest of the guys,” he said. “We’re doing that to plan for the future and make our department as complete and well-rounded as possible.”

The HPD already has training scheduled this year in areas including firearms, drug investigation, new technology and defensive tactics.

Ceplina said another new vehicle will soon be purchased for the department, most likely a pickup.

“This department has never had a truck,” he said, “and we could use one for a number of reasons.”

The HPD’s immense load in 2019 was handled by eight full-time officers and three reserves.

“Considering the call volume we have here, I couldn’t be more pleased with the officers’ performance,” Ceplina said. “These guys work their tails off, and as their chief I take great pride in the level of professionalism they complete their work with and show the public. Based on what we do here, maybe there’s room to add another officer or two in the future, but that’s all budget-related and we’ll have to do things as they can be afforded.

“But with things as they are, I’ll put this department up against any department twice our size.”

The HPD will soon undergo a significant personnel change, as Cpl. David Kidwell will retire at the end of February after 34 years with the agency.

DAVID KIDWELL

“He will be greatly missed,” Ceplina said. “He’s an old-school cop with a ton of experience, and has been a fixture with this department for a very long time.”

Ceplina said he feels like 2020 will be a banner year for Houston, and that the economic burdens that often lead to crime here could begin to be curbed.

“The No. 1 thing people in a relationship argue about is money,” he said, “and our economic developer and city administrator are doing everything they can to try to bring as much opportunity to Houston as possible. I grew up here, and I think in 2020 there will be more positive changes for the City of Houston than I can recall in my lifetime. I’m very optimistic.”

Ceplina said he and his officers don’t take lightly the fact they work in a city where most citizens appreciate them.

“We enjoy having the support the community gives us,” he said. “Our community is a rarity in today’s world in that people band together when times are tight and they do support law enforcement and the good things that are left in this world. I think that’s one of the things that makes Houston a great place to live.”

•Service calls: 7,786

•Written reports: 892 (new record, up from 654 in 2018)

•Traffic stops: 1,600 (544 citations, 1,509 warnings)

•Traffic accidents: 127

•DWI: 40

•Felony arrests: 252

•Warrant arrests: 194

•Misdemeanor arrests: 573

•Theft cases: 169

•Domestic violence cases: 138

•Drug possession cases: 70

•Weapons calls: 30

•Assault on officer: 1

•Chief: Tim Ceplina

•Lieutenant: Brad Evans

•Sergeant: Matt Woodmansee

•Corporal: David Kidwell

•School resource officer: Josh Green

•Officers: Adam Stevenson, Travis Thompson, Jason Wink

•Reserve officers: B.J. Adler, Brian Allgire, Jeremy St. John

“Considering the call volume we have here, I couldn’t be more pleased with the officers’ performance.”

HPD CHIEF TIM CEPLINA

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