EDITORIAL: It’s why we rely on evidence

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When the Liberty Hill Police Department makes an arrest, there is evidence involved in reaching the conclusion that an arrest is warranted. We’re all thankful for that.

The proposed budget presented to the City Council in early August included a sizable increase in City staffing, most notably in the police department where a patrol lieutenant, an investigator, traffic officer, two patrol officers and a part-time administrative employee were included.

Some of those same positions had been requested and not approved in the previous year’s budget.

This time around there was no issue with approval. In fact, there was never a public discussion to justify the need for the new positions. The department already had 11 employees, so the increase was 50 percent.

Without some kind of evidence to demonstrate the need, it was difficult to accept the increase without an explanation. Mayor Rick Hall justified the need by saying hiring had not been done in the past as it should have been to keep up with the need, but that did not explain the need.

He addressed the number of cases that had not been closed as the most detailed justification offered by anyone throughout the budget process.

“There’s an average of 40 or 50 open cases that are still unsolved and for me it’s a concern I have with that many crimes happening in our city and we don’t have dedicated staff to work those crimes,” Hall said in early August.

So The Independent decided to take an evidence-based approach to the question and made a formal request for information. On Sept. 11, we asked for annual activity reports and staff levels for the last three years, as well as a list of unsolved cases.

The City had 10 days to respond to the request or inform The Independent it was seeking an exception to releasing the data through the Texas Attorney General. When the 10 days had passed, what The Independent received instead was a letter seeking “clarification” of the requests in what seemed more like a stall tactic than an effort to share the information.

If there was a desire to share the information, why did it take until the final moments to even ask for clarification?

But The Independent responded to the request the same day, and again, the City waited the full 10 days to respond, this time letting the paper know that if the information is to be gathered and sent it will cost the paper $73.

So we have waited 28 days for information that is public. We have waited 28 days for information often provided to the City Council each month in a basic report.

It is also worth noting we have waited 28 days for information that should have played a key role in determining whether the additional staffing was justified or not.

If this information was not readily available to the Council, or used in the decision to add staffing, how was that decision made? Is it as simple as the Police Chief or Mayor saying so because they support the idea?

During the municipal election campaign last Spring, then-candidate Steve McIntosh, a retired law enforcement officer, was asked about how he would make a decision whether to support additional police staffing or not.

“In a larger perspective, you’re looking at not only staffing numbers, but you’re looking at deployment aspects,” he said in March. “That has to be done, and when I talk about hiring someone you can just get an outside agency, a command staff member from another agency, that will show some legitimacy to the points you’re making or not.”

He said it is imperative that those making the request ensure they are making a good case that is easy to understand.

“If you’re going to make the argument that you need it, you have to have the information to give to someone who is not a law enforcement person to make them understand what it is you are needing,” McIntosh said. “I’d say if you are failing in that argument you need to try a different method.”

It doesn’t appear any outside agency was consulted, and no justification was asked for or provided to elected officials. But, every position was approved without a word.

If the information was used to make the decision it would be available to the public today.

The Independent has never said that additional staffing was not necessary at the police department.

What the community’s newspaper has done is ask for the decision to be justified empirically. So far, the City Council has only proven that it either doesn’t truly want to share the information or it was never considered in the process.

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