It feels like it’s been on the back burner for awhile, but we’re about to get some action this month.
Houston officials are developing a system for residents to report police misconduct online and will announce changes later this month to the city’s body camera policies and Independent Police Oversight Board, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Turner responded Tuesday to written questions from the Chronicle, more than six months after his police reform task force released a lengthy report with more than 100 recommended changes to the Houston Police Department, including stricter disciplinary rules for officers and an overhaul of the police oversight board. Though the mayor endorsed “almost all” of the task force’s recommendations at the time they were released, he has yet to announce any major policy changes and has enacted only a handful of the smaller proposals that task force members said could be carried out within 90 days.
The slow pace has unsettled police reform advocates.
“We haven’t made any meaningful progress since the George Floyd protests, just forget about it,” said Alan M. de León, an organizer with MOVE Texas. “Whether the oversight board, union contract negotiation, or crisis intervention, on no front are we making meaningful progress, and that’s completely disappointing.”
The mayor, who controls the city council agenda and policy changes, said he plans to hire staff within the city’s Office of Inspector General — including a deputy inspector general — as his task force recommended. Turner also said he supports body cameras recommendations, including publicly releasing footage of major incidents within 30 days and installing dashboard cameras in all cop cars, and promised more details later this month.
Those pushing for police reform hope new Police Chief Troy Finner, a native Houstonian who took over Monday, will push reform. Since being appointed in March, Finner has promised to meet with and listen to reformers.
“You could tell he wanted changes to happen,” said Harrison Guy, a police reform task force member who met with Finner twice last year. “I feel like (former chief Art Acevedo) led with a lot of ego, so I felt like he got in the way of a lot of change.”
Lacy Wolf, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, said Turner’s administration has not updated task force members on the status of their recommendations. However, Wolf said after seeing bureaucratic barriers that delay reforms, he is more forgiving than some fellow union members.
“But if I put myself back in that place I was at (last summer), I could see why people would be frustrated.”
Bobby Singh, another member of the task force, said he believed Turner viewed policing reform as among the most significant policy issues of his administration.
“This is going to be a legacy line item for him,” he said.
I sure hope so. Someone once said that it’s better to be right slow than to be wrong quick. There are limitations to that, and I don’t blame anyone for feeling like this has taken too damn long, but when all is said and done either Mayor Turner has delivered on this promise or he hasn’t. I believe he can, but we still have to see what changes he makes.
One more thing:
In September, HPD joined Harris County’s cite-and-release program, which allows police officers to issue tickets for various low-level crimes instead of arresting people, fulfilling another task force recommendation.
But despite much fanfare, reform advocates say the city has failed to provide data about whether police are actually using the new rules to arrest fewer residents than before it was enacted. They said city officials told them no information was available.
“It seems like the police department is completely ignoring the mayor’s executive order, and has no intention of complying unless the county collects this data,” said Nicholas Hudson, a policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas.
Not to get all “run it like a business” on you, but one thing I have learned in a million years of working for a large company is that if you can’t (or don’t) measure something, you can’t say anything about it. Either you provide an objective metric to show how something is or isn’t changing over time, or it’s all talk. This should be an easy fix, and it’s the only way anyone will know if HPD is doing what it says it’s doing. We have to do better than this.