Five African American Council Members present Mayor Turner with letter asking for law enforcement policy changes as part of negotiations between the City and Houston Police Union
Ever since the cruel and heartless killing of George Floyd was caught on camera in May, many cities across the United States have passed progressive ordinances or have implemented sweeping changes relative to their respective police departments.
In response to the outcry for change across the country, especially here in the city of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed Executive Order 1-67 into law this past June, which implemented or reinforced specific police reforms at the Houston Police Department (HPD), such as:
- Only allowing law enforcement officers to use an amount of force that is “objectively reasonable” to successfully protect themselves and others during an arrest or while dealing with members of the community, suspects or prisoners
- Making it mandatory for officers to use de-escalation techniques and requiring HPD to continuously develop, update and train officers in de-escalation techniques
- Officers making every effort to de-escalate a situation and use other available alternatives before resorting to the use of deadly force
- Reporting all uses of deadly force by a police officer to the Independent Police Oversight Board
- Prohibiting any law enforcement officer from firing a firearm at a moving vehicle unless it is “objectively necessary to protect the officer or others from imminent serious bodily injury or death.”
- Banning officers from using chokeholds and strangleholds
- Prohibiting officers from placing their knee, foot or body weight on the neck of a suspect
- Prohibiting no-knock warrants, unless they are signed off on by the chief of police or their designee and the warrant has been signed off on by a district judge
- Ensuring all officers involved in executing a no-knock warrant are wearing body cameras
- Emphasizing to any police officer that they are duty-bound to intercede and prevent any use of force that is beyond what is reasonable under the circumstances, and they must immediately report the use of such force to an on-duty supervisor
The Executive Order announcement was received with mixed emotions from many community activists at the time, who have demanded more be done to address what they believe is an out-of-control issue, especially here in Houston, between law enforcement officers and people of color.
There has clearly been a push for more accountability and oversight when it comes to law enforcement across the country.
After a myriad of other high-profile police incidents involving unarmed Black people across the country, five out of the six African American members of the Houston City Council submitted a letter to Mayor Turner this past Monday, August 31, suggesting that the City and HPD immediately implement several of their proposed law enforcement policy reforms, and that these policy recommendations be a part of the City’s pending negotiations with the Houston Police Officers Union (HPOU).
The letter was signed by Martha Castex-Tatum, Vice Mayor Pro Tem, Houston City Council Member-District K and Chair of Economic Development; Jerry Davis, Houston City Council Member-District B and Vice Chair of Regulatory Neighborhood Affairs; Edward Pollard, Esq., Houston City Council Member-District J and Vice Chair of Budget and Fiscal Affairs; Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, Houston City Council Member-District D and Vice Chair of Childhood and Youth; and Tiffany D. Thomas, Houston City Council Member-District F and Chair of Housing and Community Affairs. The letter addressed to Mayor Turner reads:
“Dear Mayor Turner,
As we continue to engage with Houstonians during this time of racial solidarity, we as council members have been working diligently in order to present substantive and meaningful police reform for you to consider. The urgency needed to address police misconduct and racial injustice requires solutions that lead to actionable and impactful reform.
After discussions and comments received during our June 25, 2020, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting, we are convinced there must be a complete overhaul of the Independent Police Oversight Board (IPOB). We have no confidence in the current format. We must create a structure of guidelines that governs the function of the new board to restore public trust with public input. The oversight board must have complete autonomy, access to all unclassified information from the Houston Police Department (HPD), and investigatory authority.
We are also encouraged to hear your support for an online, independently maintained, dashboard platform that will allow the public to report complaints of police misconduct. We want the dashboard to have the ability for the public to track and access HPD policy, guidelines, trainings, complaints, and other relevant information. This platform will be an innovative measure to not only hold officers accountable for misconduct, but will increase police community relations by being transparent in a data driven fashion. We also recognize that we have a unique moment in time right now due to pending negotiations between the city and the Houston Police Officers Union (HPOU) regarding the next Meet and Confer Agreement.
To ensure that the reforms we propose have real teeth, we ask that each of the following recommendations be included, with stated and specific disciplinary action for each violation, within the Meet and Confer Agreement to make contractually binding:
- HPD officers must not interfere or prohibit any individual from using their cell phone and can only prevent the arrested party from using their cell phone once a determination of arrest is necessary
- HPD officers, who are not undercover, must clearly state their full last name, and specific police station they work out of during any police civilian interaction involving detainment or arrest
- Present an ordinance for vote to city council related to Cite and Release for minor nonviolent offenses
- Offer incentive pay for a designated number of officers to live in each of the 11 city council districts
- Conduct targeted recruitment efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI)
- Preferential hiring consideration for applicants who reside within the city limits
- Eliminate the 48 Hour Rule as detailed in the current Meet and Confer Agreement
- Eliminate the 180 Day Rule as detailed in the current Meet and Confer Agreement
- A strategy should be implemented to determine what operations require when two officers must be assigned to a patrol car
- A designated citizen, appointed by new oversight board, must be present at the scene of all walk-throughs of officer involved shootings for observation
- A designated citizen attorney, appointed by new oversight board, must be present at the scene of all walk-throughs of officer involved shootings for observation
- All walk-throughs of the scene of officer involved shootings must be video recorded
- Officers involved in a shooting must submit a written statement of their recollection of the incident before seeing footage of the incident
- HPD General Orders, relevant crime data and statistics must be regularly updated and publicly accessible on the HPD website
- Random psychological exams shall be administered to selective officers throughout the year
- Mandatory community engagement hours in predominately minority areas for all patrol officers
- All complaints of police misconduct by officers on other officers shall remain anonymous, but the nature of complaint and the disposition must be compiled and publicly accessible
- All new hire officers should be required to have a 4 year college degree
- No officer should be given overtime pay, or allowed to work off shift police jobs, while under investigation for police misconduct
- Mandatory disciplinary action for any HPD officer (and all city employees) found to have posted racially or culturally derogatory statements on social media or online
- Adopt the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s policy suggestion to minimize the use of provocative and unnecessarily aggressive tactics and equipment at city coordinated public protests
- A member of Houston City Council shall participate in the HPOU Meet and Confer negotiations; preferably the Vice Mayor Pro-Tem
- HPD officer recruiting process shall be reviewed with input from the African American Police Officers League (AAPOL) and Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers (OSSO)
- Institute a policy that clearly establishes guidelines and procedures for the release and access of dash-cam/officer worn body camera footage for individuals, families, and the public
- Require the Chief of Police to sit before the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee upon request
We believe these policy changes can be immediately implemented and will ensure needed oversight, transparency, and accountability in policing from the local level. We look forward to working with you in a collaborative way to make Houston a safer and more just city for us all.”
The death of George Floyd, along with the botched Harding Street raid in January 2019, which resulted in the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, and many other questionable incidents, have revealed serious reforms are desperately needed.
Disgraced former HPD Officer Gerald Goines and Squad 15 of HPD’s narcotics division, who were involved in the botched drug bust-turned-firefight, have been under the microscope even more than ever before, considering the deadly encounter was based off a fraudulent no-knock warrant and a false tip. Since May 2019, investigators and civil rights prosecutors have been reviewing about 14,000 cases involving Goines and Squad 15, with many of those cases having been dismissed. Ongoing investigations have uncovered that Goines may have obtained approximately 100 other no-knock warrants, similar to the one he used to execute the Harding Street raid and kill those two unarmed Houston citizens.
Back in 2014, the Houston Forward Times broke the story of Jordan Baker, and have been following and highlighting the concerns and citing the demands of his mother, Janet Baker, regarding police accountability at HPD and her journey to receive justice for her murdered son.
On January 16, 2014, Jordan was simply riding his bike through a Northwest Houston strip mall, when HPD Officer Juventino Castro shot and killed him, after mistakenly identifying him as a potential suspect. Jordan had not committed any crimes, but Castro made the decision to confront the 26-year-old African American male because of his suspicion. Jordan was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and fit the description of a suspect, according to Castro. When questioned after the shooting, Castro told investigators that he was prompted to discharge his weapon because Jordan lunged at him and charged towards him. The one shot that Castro fired, fatally killed Jordan. Castro was the only witness to the shooting death and although he was initially placed on administrative leave, a Harris County grand jury decided not to indict him. More important to note is that earlier this year, Houston City Council unanimously approved a $1.2 million settlement with the family of Jordan Baker. No criminal charges were ever filed against Castro, and he was able to keep his job with HPD with absolutely no accountability for his actions.
In 2015, Jordan’s mother, Janet Baker, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to get justice for her son. As part of that federal lawsuit, Janet and her attorneys made some stinging allegations against HPD, citing their history of dealing unarmed citizens, stating:
“Tragically, the shooting of an unarmed citizen by a member of the Houston Police Department was not an isolated incident. Instead, the City of Houston has experienced a rash of such police-involved shootings of unarmed individuals, and particularly African-Americans, in such a manner that they are de- facto City policy. Nonetheless, the City of Houston has not done anything to address the pervasive shooting of unarmed individuals by its officers. And, like Defendant Castro, the City has not been held accountable for its actions (and inactions) concerning the shooting of unarmed individuals by its officers.”
It is unclear whether the Mayor, City Council or HPOU will agree to some or all of these recommended law enforcement policy changes, but the five Council Members are seeking an immediate response to address this additional ongoing national pandemic.
The Forward Times will keep its readers up-to-date on the details surrounding these suggested law enforcement policy reforms. Stay tuned!