Money for big-ticket items like gunboats and planes isn’t included in the state’s 2014-15 budget plan for the Department of Public Safety’s border operations. But the DPS is poised to have money to pay for troopers’ raises and to retain funding for the agency’s fusion center during the next biennium.
Under the new budget plan, which still awaits Gov. Rick Perry's signature, the department's overall funding is approximately $2.7 billion, about an 11 percent drop from the current biennium's $3.1 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board's final version. (The total does not include employee benefits, such as retirement, Social Security and insurance.)
The agency received the $74 million it requested to fund 10 percent pay raises for commissioned peace officers across the state, and an additional equity pay-raise for officers classified higher than Level 1 troopers.
The equity pay raises will vary depending on several factors, including overtime and rank, but they will help retain current staff and court additional hires, the agency said.
“The responsibilities of DPS commissioned officers have continued to evolve over the years, and they have taken on new challenges and risks without a corresponding adjustment in pay for far too long,” said Katherine Cesinger, a DPS spokeswoman. “We are proud of our officers and are extremely grateful for the leadership of the Texas Legislature in providing the compensation our commissioned officers justly deserve. We believe this pay adjustment will assist our department in competing with other law enforcement entities in attracting and retaining these high performing officers.”
An October report by the Texas state auditor’s office said current salaries and wages for commissioned officers were not competitive with what the state’s seven largest local law enforcement agencies pay. They include the cities of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, and Harris County. Their average maximum pay is about 20 percent higher than what DPS pays for officers of similar rank, the report says.
During an interim hearing of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee last spring, DPS Director Steve McCraw said that the agency had vacancies that were difficult to fill because federal agencies could lure potential trainees by offering more money.
In September, McCraw told members of Perry’s staff and the Legislative Budget Board that the department had 3,884 commissioned officer positions.
“However, a comprehensive statewide assessment using the Northwestern University Police Allocation Model documented the need for a minimum staffing level of 4,737 commissioned officer positions, which is a 22 percent increase, or 853 new positions,” he said. Before the agency can request the additional positions, he added, the agency must first commit to retaining current staffing levels.
Funding for general border security and local border security totaled about $35.5 million and $47.2 million, respectively, a total that is about $8 million less than the current biennium. Cesinger attributed the drop, in part, to a lack of funding requests for big-ticket items, like boats, planes or fixed-wing aircraft, some of which were one-time requests filled last session. The agency’s fleet currently stands at nine planes and 15 helicopters. It also has a six-boat tactical marine unit.
General border security is categorized as training, operating costs and equipment for highway patrol and criminal investigations staff, Texas Rangers and aircraft operations. Local border security includes overtime and operational costs for increased patrols and overtime, as well as support personnel from other agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife and local law enforcement. It also includes funding for the Rio Grande Valley Border Security and Technology Training Center, various intelligence and joint operations centers, and travel expenses for the Texas Military Forces.
Despite a late-session warning that funding for the agency’s fusion center would not be renewed, the money was included as part of the department's intelligence strategy funding of $12.6 million. The center acts as a hub for intelligence data gathered by local, state and federal agencies, and also houses the state’s counterterrorism unit.
Nationally, the centers have come under some fire for being too intrusive and costly, though the Department of Homeland Security says the centers are a necessary tool to gather intelligence and fight crime. The federal government has created a webpage to highlight the centers’ successes.
The final budget also allots the Texas DPS $11 million to help address the state’s massive backlog of untested rape kits. In 2011, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1636, by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, which requires that state law enforcement agencies report the number of untested rape kits and submit a certain number to DPS for testing. The line item will cover the outsourcing costs to have the kits tested, and DPS estimates that based on historical data, about half of the untested kits will yield traces of DNA.
The state will also spend about $30 million to continue addressing wait times for applicants for new or renewed driver’s licenses. The money will go toward new driver’s license offices in Dallas and Houston, as well as 325 self-service kiosks across the state.