Let’s talk “meaningful reform”

Chief Acevedo brought it up, so let’s go there.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s voice cracked several times and his eyes welled as he railed against the death of George Floyd beneath a policeman’s knee and implored protesters to demonstrate peacefully with him.

“I will not allow anyone to tear down this city, because this is our city,” Acevedo shouted on Sunday to the group of mostly black Houstonians surrounding him at one of many protests in the wake of video showing Floyd’s fatal encounter with police in Minneapolis. “Pay close attention! Because these little white guys with their skateboards are the ones starting all the s–t.”

Video of Acevedo’s profanity-laced remarks went viral and, along with his other blunt statements this week, won the chief acclaim from those outraged by the death of Floyd, a former Third Ward resident.

It has also drawn anger from those who say Acevedo has failed to address the very things he’s condemning at home. His calls for police to be more transparent and enact “meaningful reform” have refocused attention on a series of fatal shootings by his own officers, and his refusal to release body camera video of the incidents.

“We’re looking at him say one thing on camera, but locally, we know different,” said Dav Lewis, a local activist who was friends with Adrian Medearis, one of the men who died in the spate of shootings. “We know different locally. We have not seen police accountability.”

The chief has also resisted calls to release the results of an audit of his narcotics division, rocked last year by one of its worst scandals in decades, and he has downplayed calls to bolster the city’s Independent Police Oversight Board, long criticized as a “toothless watchdog” group.

“While these are great photo ops, and maybe the chief has political aspirations, and this is all warm and fuzzy kind of stuff he’s doing, it’s time for some action,” said Mark Thiessen, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.


Protesters intensified their calls on Tuesday for Acevedo to make the videos public. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s remarks at City Hall were punctuated by several people chanting “release the tapes,” and hours later Acevedo was directly confronted by a group of critical protesters at the downtown park Discovery Green.

Some lawmakers questioned Acevedo’s rationale for not releasing the body camera video.

“It is not law enforcement’s job to worry about prosecution,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “It’s their job to be law enforcement.”

Wu, a former prosecutor who has called on Acevedo previously to release his audit, said Acevedo’s attitude “does more of a disservice to taint the public’s perception than anything else.”

“Right now you have the general public believing the police hide things,” Wu said. “When other cities during this crisis have shown they can release body cams immediately — that they can fire and discipline officers immediately — the fact we can’t get videos released months, sometimes even years later, is very telling.”

There’s more, and you should read the rest. On balance, I think Art Acevedo has been a pretty good Chief of Police. It’s not at all hard to imagine someone worse in his position – the current Chief of Police in Austin, for example. I also think that some of these reform ideas should be taken out of his discretion and mandated by the appropriate governing body. For releasing body camera footage and just generally being more transparent about it, that could be the Legislature or it could be City Council. Point being, the less room he or any Chief has to stall on releasing said footage, the less time we have to have this debate about transparency.

There are plenty of other things that can be done, at all levels of government, with the local stuff having the greatest potential for swift adoption. Tarsha Jackson, formerly with the Texas Organizing Project and now on hold in the City Council District B runoff, recommended several changes to the police union contract. CM Letitia Plummer, thankfully recovering from COVID-19, has proposed a budget amendment that would:

-Require officers exhaust all reasonable means before shooting
-Ban chokeholds and strangle holds
-Require de-escalation
-Require officers give verbal warning before shooting
-Notify Independent Police Oversight Board when death occurs
-Give IPOB subpoena power

It would also redirect funds currently allocated for a police cadet class as follows:

$2M, fund separate IPOB investigations
$1M, build online portal for residents to report misconduct
$3M, police training
$2M, permanent revolving fund for the Office of Business Opportunity, no-interest loans to minority-owned biz
$2M, enhance Health Dept’s Community Re-Entry Network Program
$500k, enhance Health Dept’s My Brother’s Keeper program
$1M, equipment and implementation of a “CAHOOTS” program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets)

The point of that last item is to redirect a class of 911 calls that now go to law enforcement to this Crisis Assistance program, so the police can handle higher priority calls. Look at the photos she embedded in this Facebook post (specifically, this and this) to get a better feel for this. The city of Eugene, Oregon has used a program like this successfully since 1989. I strongly suspect most police officers would be happy to not have to respond to these kinds of calls for the most part going forward.

Stace adds recommendations from 8CantWait, which largely overlap the items noted by CM Plummer and Tarsha Jackson. Again, these are things that could be done now, if we wanted to. If there’s something you want to do in this direction, call Mayor Turner’s office and your district Council member along with the At Large members in support of these proposals. There are many ways to make noise.

There’s still more. Looking at the federal level, Sherrilyn Ifill and a triumvirate at The Atlantic have a list of action items for Congress, including an end (or at least a serious cutback) to qualified immunity, national data collection and tracking of police conduct and use of force, stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and more. Ifill notes that “Currently, officers fired for misconduct and brutality against innocent civilians can be hired by other departments”. This will sound depressingly familiar to anyone who remembers the story of Tulia.

I personally would add: Decriminalization of marijuana and a complete shift of focus on other drug offenses from arrest and incarceration to treatment; Expanding Medicaid, which as I have said a gazillion times before will do so much to provide mental health services to countless Texans; Really attacking the homelessness problem by funding housing for the homeless and raising the minimum wage so that more people can afford housing in the first place; and repealing SB4, the odious “show me your papers” law. I believe these things will drastically reduce the interactions that ordinary people – overwhelmingly people of color – have with the police and the criminal justice system.

None of these things are panaceas, and none of them directly address systemic racism – I will defer on that to those who can speak more directly from their own experience – but I do believe all of them will have the effect of reducing harm to the black and brown people who have always received the brunt of the violence that comes from encounters with the police. Again, much of this is doable right now. Clearly, some other items will require winning more elections, in Texas and around the country, but we can still get started on what can be done now. If Chief Acevedo wants to come out in support of any or all of these things, that would be nice, too. Whether he does or he doesn’t, we can make them happen anyway.

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9 Responses to Let’s talk “meaningful reform”

  1. Terrance says:

    Hpd is hiding a lot of bad cops. Goines wasn’t the worst one on the force. The District Attorneys office has a list of bad cops they won’t bring to trial. We need to demand both organizations stop protecting the bad cops.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    Wow a great post, I still have to finish reading it, but very exciting to see some criticism of Acevedo. His big speech on Amanpour made everyone think that he is some brilliant model of policing. I wrote an email to Christiane Amanpour’s show on PBS, but still no reply. I was very angry to see him portrayed as such a great chief, when I remember his department shooting the Tuttles last year, and he never apologized, the officers behind were not fired, they got to resign and get a pension from the public. No lights on City Hall for them.

    Texas Monthly just had a piece on the myth of the hero Acevedo:

    Obviously he’s planning to run for something. And I am sad because he’ll probably get it. The modern progressive idea is say a lot of nice things, because actions don’t matter. I miss the era of actions speak louder than words.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Well, i disagree with some of that, of course, but I like one thing.

    Let’s make releasing the videos MANDATORY for EVERY police encounter. I can have my nanny cam videos directly uploaded to ‘the cloud,’ so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that cam footage can be downloaded daily, for ANYONE to see. All of it.

    If a cop did something wrong, we could all see it right away. If, as happens much more often, the people the cops are dealing with were in the wrong, we’d know that, too. Right away.

    If everyone, cops, citizens, residents, and illegals alike, if everyone KNEW that their interactions with law enforcement, from the most mundane of speeding tickets to everything else was going to be available for ANYONE to see, I think it would promote better behavior by everyone, cops and non cops alike.

    That is one reform I definitely can agree with. Want transparency? Start right there. Show me every bit of footage, including dash cam video that starts when the emergency lights go on.

    Yes, this is going to take a lot of storage, but maybe set a time limit, 90 days, or something like that, and overwrite new video over the old video. If people are interested in specific videotape, they can copy it for themselves, and maybe also request that the specific videos of interest be archived and kept for a longer period.

  4. Mainstream says:

    Bill, This is way outside my area of expertise, but as I understand part of the problem: To get a fair trial, police officers accused of excessive force are entitled to a jury which has not already made up its mind. To the degree everyone showing up for jury duty has seem videos and news coverage, and already knows about and has formed opinions about the case, the criminal defendant may be entitled to a change of venue. So instead of trying the case in Harris County, the case may be moved to a more rural, less diverse county with a different demographic jury pool. There may even be rules that limit the reassignment to geographically adjacent counties–I am unsure of those details.

    None of this would prevent eventually releasing the video, after trial, but most of us want to know more information and more quickly.

  5. Bill Daniels says:


    I get that argument. We don’t want to taint the jury pool; yes, that’s a reasonable argument. Having said that, the very people most likely to end up needing a jury trial, criminal-Americans and their supporters, are DEMANDING this, demanding that the videos be shown immediately. That’s what they are marching for. So OK, let’s do it. Let’s just all agree that whether jurors see the videos before, or during the trial, it’s the same.

    Let’s all agree now, before another incident happens that becomes a question, let’s agree that showing the videotapes right away does NOT influence the jury pool, and that jurors who have already seen the tape can still be fair and unbiased. Get BLM, Antifa, La Raza, TOP, and every other activist group to all sign off on this, that they agree to support it and will not cry about it later. Get the city leaders to sign off on it that they won’t cry about it later.

    The jury is going see the tapes anyway, plus all the other evidence that does not get disclosed.

    I’m saying this in hopes of finding consensus. Y’all really want this, it means that much to you? OK, here you go! If that means Manny gets to watch me get pulled over for 70 in a 60, then that’s just what it means.

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