Tomball Police Department Chief Jeff Bert made clear the reason the upgrades are needed is not because crime in the city is rising. In fact, Bert said at the meeting, crime in the city is 4% below the five-year national average.
“I’m not here because crime is up. I’m not here because of the traffic,” Bert said at the meeting. “I’m here because our cops are doing the right thing, arresting the right people, keeping the streets safe. I would like to bolster that.”
During budget workshops in July and August, Bert did not originally ask the council to fund additional officers. However, some council members raised concerns about police staffing and included funding in the fiscal year 2021-22 budget in case the city needed it.
Bert said after the council raised the concerns, he sent two officers to a staffing analysis course and did an analysis for the police department. After considering factors such as the increase in calls for service, the complexity of those calls and the growing population, Bert said it is necessary for the department to grow from 20 officers to 23.
Since 2017, calls for service have increased by 21.7%, Bert said at the meeting. Complex calls, meaning calls that involve multiple officers or include the assistance of fire or medical services, have also increased 35.8%, Bert said.
“Those are some of our most important statistics,” Bert said.
The three additional officers, including an additional vehicle, will cost the city approximately $365,000, Bert said.
City Council also approved the purchase of 40 body-worn and 16 vehicle-mounted AXON cameras for the police department, totaling $416,812. The cameras will be paid off in annual installments over five years.
Bert said the cameras are necessary because the department’s current operational model is inefficient, and there are not enough cameras for each officer to have their own.
The purchasing of the cameras was not included in this fiscal year’s budget. Although the council unanimously approved the purchase, some of the council members were displeased with how the request was made.
Council Member John Ford said it is not fair to the citizens and taxpayers of Tomball to have this issue come up now instead of being able to inform the public during the budget workshops.
“I think it’s sloppy,” Ford said. “I would encourage you to take a hard look at whatever systems are giving us problems and be prepared for the next budget cycle.”
Council Member Derek Townsend agreed, adding it would have been better to have planned for the purchase in the budget even if the city did not know it needed it yet, similar to what it did with budgeting for additional police officers.
“It’s better for us to earmark money during the budget process even if we don’t use it,” Townsend said. “If we know there’s something coming up, we can take money out of the various funds.”
Bert said he is applying for grants of up to $2,000 per camera to help pay for the costs. Additionally, the new system would save the city about $67,000 a year in labor and material costs, according to the agenda packet.
City Manager David Esquivel said if the city is approved for the grants, the city would pay about $40,000-$50,000 in this funding year. Esquivel said the cameras will be budgeted for in the city’s next fiscal year budget.
City Council also approved the replacement of 10 vehicles, totaling $488,281 for the vehicles and upfitting, which includes adding lighting, radios and radars. The vehicle replacement is part of the city’s fleet replacement fund, which was included in the approved budget.
The police department will receive four replacement vehicles, while the public works department will receive five, and the fire department will receive one.