Westchase District Patrol has devised a new strategy to address the challenges and changes in public safety. The new strategy is driven by law enforcement staffing shortages that have been trending since 2018 and further complicated by COVID-19 disruptions to other labor workforces. In response, Westchase District Patrol has added S.E.A.L. Security to its patrol team.
“Like our Houston Police Department officers, S.E.A.L. officers are professionally trained and experienced,” said Mark Hubenak, Westchase District’s public safety director. S.E.A.L. began patrolling commercial and residential areas last month in marked patrol cars. Uniformed officers and K-9 protection services are part of the patrols.
S.E.A.L. patrols the nearby Briargrove Park neighborhood and is familiar with the area. Its officers bring a combination of experience in law enforcement, private security and in the military.
Building on the team
“Having HPD and S.E.A.L. working together give us a solid partnership,” said Hubenak. “The Houston area has faced dwindling police department resources for a variety of reasons which have impacted the District’s ability to maintain the staffing levels that we previously had. Our HPD officers have been outstanding, and their presence is always important.”
Hubenak has daily morning meetings with the S.E.A.L. Security officers and HPD officers who serve on the Westchase District Patrol. “The shared learning has been invaluable,” said Hubenak. “Officers compare notes and collaborate on solutions to providing more effective services to the area.”
Private security firms are experiencing a growth boom. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a 12 percent growth in security officers is forecast by 2022. That’s 130,200 more jobs, compared with a growth of only 41,400 jobs in law enforcement. As municipalities struggle with reduced budgets and limited resources for law enforcement agencies, the future may see this type of ‘hybrid’ community policing in many cities and their neighborhoods. For Westchase District, contracting with S.E.A.L. addressed the shortage of available officers to take on shifts.
Rising crime means rising needs
Throughout the Houston area, crime is on the rise. The city saw a 30 percent increase in homicides over 2020 and 73 percent increase from 2019. “Unfortunately, there’s no part of Houston that hasn’t felt this pain point,” said Hubenak. “And, many public opinion polls have expressed that people want an increased law enforcement presence.”
“Our S.E.A.L team has followed HPD’s community policing model and the personal approach our HPD officers take in the community,” said Hubenak. “The S.E.A.L. officers are getting familiar with apartment communities, having in-person meetings with apartment managers, and getting to know business owners and patrolling public areas like our new park. Their presence along with our Westchase District Patrol vehicles is highly noticeable.”
Meanwhile, the District has returned to providing in-person public safety presentations which were put on hold in 2020 due to COVID restrictions but made available online via YouTube. During the presentations residents of apartment communities meet officers in person and share their concerns or ask questions. To date, five live presentations have been made to apartment communities.
A testimonial to Westchase District Patrol
“The response from our residents has been spectacular,” said Nicolle Carranza, Ashford Communities’ residence affairs coordinator. “Now, residents understand that with their help, we as landlords, can do way more to help keep our communities as safe as possible. Our residents have begun to report suspicious activity on the property more often, which has enabled us to prevent crime within our communities. We are organizing a Community Crime Watch Committee made up of residents who have volunteered to be part of this new project.”
Quick response times are important to Westchase District Patrol which has a dedicated dispatch line at 713-701-7800.