Law enforcement officers all over the United States are busier than ever these days, and that certainly applies to members of the Houston Police Department, who were dispatched 8,410 times in 2021, compared to 7,156 in 2020 and 7,867 in 2019.
HPD officers generated 849 written reports in 2021. A significant portion of those reports were related to drugs, as there were 47 felony possession arrests (up from 26 in 2020), 7 felony distribution arrests (compared to zero in 2020) and 7 felony trafficking arrests (also compared to none in 2020). There were also 128 misdemeanor drug charges, 55 related to drug possession and 73 to paraphernalia possession.
“We deal with a lot of drug activity,” said HPD Chief Brad Evans, “and I don’t really see that changing.”
Animal control calls are also commonplace in Houston. Officers responded to 320 in 2021, setting traps 152 times, taking dogs to the pound 62 times (as opposed to 35 in 2020) and to a veterinarian 13 times.
“We handle to a lot of animal control calls,” Evans said. “We took in a lot more dogs last year than we normally do. We spend a lot of time with these types of calls; it’s not the best part of the job, but it’s still part of what we have to do.”
Responses related to crimes against children went up dramatically in 2021, as HPD officers dealt with 16 child endangering or neglect cases, compared to only 5 in 2020. Evans said grant funding was obtained last year to acquire equipment that helps download content from cell phones and computers.
Weapons violations cases also saw a significant increase last year, with 12 armed criminal action felony offenses compared to 1 in 2020.
“And those are the arrests,” Evans said. “There is definitely more activity in that category.”
HPD officers issued 916 traffic citations last year, compared to 573 in 2020 and 627 in 2019. Evans said the department has increased its traffic presence in large part thanks to Missouri Department of Transportation overtime grants.
“We’re up in almost all categories of traffic enforcement,” he said. “And with that increase has come an increase in drug arrests.”
Evans said the expansion of U.S. 63 to four lanes through Houston has resulted in a need for more attention on that roadway.
“Sometimes people us it as their super-highway, so to speak,” he said, “and we’ve made a conscious effort to try to slow people down on it. The lanes are very narrow, but I do think the four lanes has been a benefit us as far as traffic congestion goes.
“I’m happy to see it, and I would eventually like to see it go to four lanes at least from Cabool to Jefferson City.”
The HPD has eight patrol vehicles in its fleet, including a 2020 Ford F-150, three Dodge Chargers (a 2021, a 2019 and a 2017) and four Ford Explorers (a 2019 and three 2018s). Evans drives the pickup (that was obtained last year), which he said has been a great tool for the department.
“It has come in very handy multiple times,” he said. “There are times when we pick up large items of evidence, or things like bicycles, and now we don’t have to call for a city utility truck. Or worse yet, when they were off, we’d have to go get a utility truck ourselves to haul something that won’t fit in the Chargers or Explorers.”
Last year, six HPD vehicles were outfitted with more visible emergency lighting, and the one used by the agency’s school resource officer was decked out with colorful graphics related to the Houston School District. Evans said the other seven will soon be equipped with new, more noticeable graphics.
“We want them to be more visible in the community,” Evans said. “I like the ‘ghost graphics’ that are on the cars now, but I think something more noticeable will help with the public’s ability to recognize us.”
All patrol vehicles were also equipped with prisoner transport cages and the capability to issue electronic citations. The electronic citations are printed on site, and that equipment was funded through a grant as well.
The HPD obtained $66,000 in grant funding last year, primarily for the purchase of lots of necessary equipment (for both officers and patrol vehicles) and to pay for overtime.
“As far as grants goes, last year was a good year for as,” Evans said.
Funds coming in from the sales tax approved by voters in 2019 has also provided a major boost, Evans said.
“It’s a fantastic asset,” he said. “It has allowed us to obtain equipment we can’t get with grants or our general budget. And we try to do training that will benefit the community, and being able to use the tax money to purchase things has allowed us to use more of our general budget funds for officers to attend different kinds of training that will provide those benefits.
“We try to find areas guys are interested in and expand upon those, and we also look at their weak areas and get them to the right training so it benefits the department as a whole.”
The HPD currently has eight full-time officers on the roster and two reserves. In 2021, three officers left and two were added.
A full staff would feature nine full-timers and a couple more reserves, and Evans said those vacancies should soon be filled.
These days, every law enforcement agency in the nation faces challenges in maintaining staff.
“The hardest thing right now in police work is attracting and retaining officers,” Evans said. “You’re competing with other departments for quality officers, and you’re also competing with the private sector. But you’re also competing with the media, because the media doesn’t often portray us in the most positive light.
“But right now I think we have a good group of guys who will be a strong bunch moving forward.”
The HPD recently re-booted its K-9 unit program with the addition of Omen, a year-and-a-half old Belgian Malinois (or Belgian Shepherd) obtained from the Little Rock K-9 Academy in Arkansas. Omen is a full-service patrol dog capable of apprehension, drug work, article searches and human tracking. He joined the HPD Jan. 9.
“We’re pretty excited about Omen and how he can help us out,” Evans said.
Officer Adam Stevenson is Omen’s handler, and the team attended a two-week training class in Little Rock that began Jan. 10.
“Omen loves to work,” Evans said, “and he and Adam have bonded very well and are making a good team. But it takes time; they’re still getting a feel for one another, but they’re on the road working.”
Omen and Stevenson were involved in a mile-long tracking operation last week, looking for a missing person in the Bucyrus area.
“We’re doing really good,” Stevenson said. “Me and him are pretty close and we go everywhere together. He’s very energetic and great to work with.
“And he loves to work; he’d rather be working than anything else. To him work is play.”
Omen picks up where the HPD’s first police dog, Rook, left off in 2016.
“We were anxious to get the program going again for several reasons,” Evans said. “We have a growing need for drug detection, and officer safety is important because year after year our officers are involved in more physical altercations.”
While people in many areas of the U.S. (especially urban locations) have a negative viewpoint of law enforcement officers, Evans said residents of Houston and Texas County are largely supportive.
“I couldn’t ask for better support from the citizens of Houston,” he said. “We’re blessed to live where we have such great support from the community; it has always been that way and I don’t see it changing.”
THE HPD IN 2021
•Total calls: 8,401
•Felony arrests: 166
•Misdemeanor arrests: 427
•Warrant arrests: 173
•Reports written: 849
•Traffic citations: 916
•Chief: Brad Evans
•Lieutenant: Matt Woodmansee
•School resource officer: Josh Green
•K-9 unit: Adam Stevenson and Omen
•Patrol officers: Jordan Goodwin, J.D. Jordan, Travis Thompson, Terry Wolfe
•Reserve officers: Tim Ceplina, Dustin Hartman