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Bradford calls for review of HPD oversight

He’s right that something needs to be done to ensure that people feel confident in the system.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

Houston City Councilman and former Police Chief C.O. “Brad” Bradford said citizens have lost faith in the city’s oversight of the use of force by police officers, and it’s time for a discussion on how to restore confidence in the system.

Bradford was responding to a series of Houston Chronicle stories about the shooting of more than 100 civilians by the Houston Police Department from 2008 to 2012. More than a quarter of those shot were unarmed. All of those cases were reviewed by Harris County grand juries, and none have resulted in charges against officers.

“If citizens don’t trust (the oversight) or have faith in it, you’ve got to go to Plan B – whatever Plan B should be,” said Bradford, who was HPD chief from 1997 to 2004. “I think some process has to be established which improves the trust that citizens have in our process which reviews use of force.

“It’s not the review process that I think citizens have a concern with, it’s the understanding and the transparency of that review process,” he said.


Mayor Annise Parker supported the process used by HPD to investigate shootings but said she wanted to see the number of shootings decline.

“We do an excellent job of investigating, and I think we do an excellent job of learning from those shootings every time one happens to try and prevent them in the future,” Parker said. “I wish we could bring the number down, and we’re constantly working to bring that number down.”

McClelland, in a news conference Thursday, stressed that state law allows officers to use deadly force on a suspect, even if it turns out the person was unarmed.

“That’s unfortunate and it’s a tragedy, but it doesn’t mean it falls outside of the law or outside policy and training,” said McClelland.

The three articles in question are these:

Civilians caught in the line of fire

Christmas Day turns deadly

Grand jury’s role in police shootings draws scrutiny

Grits has an excerpt from the first story. The genesis of all this is Emily dePrang’s two-part story in the Texas Observer from the summer about the disciplinary process at HPD, Crimes Unpunished and The Horror Every Day. Start with those two, then read the Chron stories.

The latter Chron story, about the use of a shooting simulator by grand juries that investigate HPD shootings, a practice that was not widely known even among Criminal District Court judges, is provocative and yet another issue that needs to be aired during the District Attorney race. That story also notes that state law grants a lot of latitude to anyone, not just cops, who use deadly force in situations where they feel their lives or safety are at risk – “stand your ground” laws, in other words. Putting aside those concerns, the disciplinary process at HPD is in serious need of reform, and the Chron stories also raise questions about the level of firearm training HPD officers receive. I don’t know what “Plan B” looks like, either, but I agree with CM Bradford that we need to find a better way.

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