Approved 16 to 0, the contract will provide a 10.5 percent pay increase implemented over three years. In July of 2022, officers will receive a 4 percent increase, with another 3 percent in 2023 and 3.5 percent in 2024. The combined cost of the contract will be $125.4 million over the three-year period.
Along with the pay raises, the new contract says the city may investigate alleged crimes committed by officers for 180 days after learning of offenses instead of 180 days after the offense occurred.
Under city charter rules, only the mayor’s administration and the union may participate in such contract negotiations, but some city council members were caught off guard by the mayor’s announcement of an agreement and sought to delay the approval vote for two weeks for further review and community input.
“It’s not about the dollars. It’s not about their raise,” said Councilmember Tarsha Jackson who motioned for the delay. “They deserve a raise. But it’s about the process and it’s about holding police accountable.”
Formerly an activist with the progressive policy advocacy group Texas Organizing Project, Jackson has sought reforms to policing and greater transparency in the city’s negotiations with law enforcement.
Mayor Sylvester Turner dismissed concerns about his negotiations with the union saying they had used the same process as previous administrations.
“So, I know I’ve heard people say about the process, process, process, but it’s not like it’s new,” said Turner. “Councilmember, I respect your motion for two weeks, but let me tell you based on my experience, nothing changes.”
Councilmember Mike Knox, a former Houston police officer, argued that delaying a vote to approve the contract would constitute “a vote of no confidence in our mayor’s ability to negotiate with our employee groups.”
“And it also is a flagrant demonstration of no confidence in our police officers,” added Knox.
Earlier this year, Turner unveiled his “One Safe Houston” initiative with the goals of improving both public safety and holding police accountable. Although the mayor’s $44 million plan does not add any additional officers to the city’s payroll, it does include $5.7 million for overtime pay for existing officers to implement 125 additional patrols in crime hotspots.
The fourth-largest city in the nation, Houston has struggled with rising crime and a homicide rate second only to Chicago in 2022, and there have been more than 100 homicides within the city since the beginning of the year.
Although this is the second police contract Turner has negotiated during his tenure as mayor, the city has failed to reach contract agreements with the firefighters union and the last Houston firefighters contract expired in 2017.
In 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved “Proposition B,” a city charter amendment that would have provided pay parity between firefighters and police officers, but the city and the police union have fought implementation and the matter remains tied up in pending litigation.
Last summer, Turner announced the city would provide firefighters with an 18 percent pay increase over three years, but by using federal American Rescue Act funds only available to the city on a temporary basis.
In her efforts to delay approval of the police union contract, Jackson expressed a desire to have more community involvement in crafting accountability measures and establishing pay standards, but Knox clarified with the city’s attorney that city council members were expressly prohibited from negotiating contract terms, leaving such negotiations completely in the hands of the mayor.
Houston’s so-called “strong mayor” charter has prompted a unique coalition that includes unions as well as conservative and progressive groups to advocate for a charter change that would give elected council members greater authority over setting the city’s agenda. The Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition gathered and submitted enough signatures to place a proposed charter amendment on the ballot last year, but Turner maneuvered to defer the item to the 2023 election cycle.
Regarding the new police contract, Turner noted Houston had “never defunded the police.”
Suspects charged in Houston are processed through the Harris County criminal justice system, where last week district attorney Kim Ogg accused county administration of “defunding law enforcement.”
Harris County constables have also accused the county of using budgetary maneuvers to decrease budgets through a rules change last year that stripped law enforcement offices of more than $20 million in so-called roll-over funds.
“We have always stood with our officers and recognized their service and sacrifice,” said Turner.
“At the same time, we have listened and responded to voices throughout the community.”
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.