Pension reform helps spike police retirements

Mayor Sylvester Turner attended the Cadet Class 231 graduation ceremony Monday night, cheering the addition of 65 new officers to the ranks of the Houston Police Department. 

He’ll need every last one of them. 

Just as a round of pension reforms in 2004 led to a spike in police retirements that drove down HPD’s headcount for several years, the passage of the landmark reforms Turner pushed through the Legislature earlier this year has contributed to another spike in departures. 

Here’s a chart, drawn from city budget documents:

HPD records show 362 officers retired or triggered the retirement process in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the highest annual total for which records are readily available.

Another 52 officers left the department voluntarily without having accumulated the years of service necessary to draw a pension check. That tally of “resignations” also is roughly double the figure that has been typical over the last decade. 

The main way Houston will replace those 415 officers is to run classes through the police academy. At this elevated level of attrition, Turner would need to fund seven classes — the maximum the academy can train in a year — to break even, assuming the typical class size of 65. 

Turner budgeted for four classes this fiscal year (so, about 260 cadets), but hopes to find the dollars to pay for a fifth class (about 325 cadets).

Council members pushing the mayor to move more money into their district funds at last week’s council meeting met that talking point head-on.

“There are big priority items that must be funded first,” the mayor said, “especially as it relates to law enforcement, fleet.”

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