5 Houston City Council members send mayor letter with police reform suggestions

Five Houston City Council members sent a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner containing more than two dozen suggestions for police reform.

In the letter, which was sent Monday morning, the council members proposed several changes within the Houston Police Department including adopting a policy to minimize the use of “unnecessary, aggressive tactics and equipment at city coordinated public protests” and “mandatory community engagement in predominantly minority areas for all patrol officers”.

City council members Edward Pollard, Esq. (District J), Tiffany D. Thomas (District F), Jerry Davis (District B), Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Castex-Tatum (District K), and Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabaaz (District D) signed the letter.

"What we want to stress is we support HPD. We believe we have a great department but these reforms will make it even stronger,” says Houston City Council Member Edward Pollard.

"We're not here to defund the police. Not one council member voted to defund the police. We're about how to put more effective systems in place,” says Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis.

"We understand the history behind law enforcement and black people. We have our own individual stories around law enforcement,” says Houston City Council Member Tiffany Thomas.

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Following discussions and comments received during a Public Safety and Homeland Security Meeting on June 25, the council members say they are “convinced there must be a complete overhaul of the Independent Police Oversight Board.”

“So the common man Jim and Jane Houston can come to the board, state their case, not experience bias and feel like their concerns are heard,” says Thomas.

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“We have no confidence in the current format,” the letter states. “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.”

"This has to be done. We can not just sit and not make concrete efforts toward addressing those necessary reforms,” adds Houston City Council Member Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabaaz.

“Racial justice and sound policing can co-exist and it should co-exist,” says Castex-Tatum.

“I welcome their input and feedback. There will be changes and reforms put in place. No system is perfect and you always look at ways at how you can improve and so there will be reforms. We have 5,300 police officers and by and large, they do an outstanding job. Simply because you put in reforms it's not intended to disparage a police department as a whole," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The task force the mayor appointed to take a look at police reform is expected to make its recommendations by the end of September.

Some changes within the Houston Police Department these five City Council Members are asking for include prohibiting officers from forbidding anyone who isn't under arrest from using their cell phone and having officers who are involved in a shooting submit a written statement before seeing any footage. They also ask for clear guidelines on when the public can see body- and dashcam video.

Pollard says they also want to give preferential hiring consideration to those who live within the city limits.

"It's important that we recruit at predominantly HBCU's (historically black colleges and universities) or spaces where we can continue to attract a diverse police force,” says Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum.

The council members also proposed the creation of an online, independently maintained, dashboard platform that would allow the public to report complaints of police misconduct and view information about HPD policy.

“We want the dashboard to have the ability for the public to track and access HPD policy, guidelines, trainings, complaints, and other relevant information,” the letter says. “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.”

Negotiations are pending between the city and the Houston Police Officers Union regarding the next Meet and Confer Agreement, according to the letter, and council members ask that their suggestions be included.

“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,” the letter states.

The letter lists the following recommendations:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Present an ordinance for vote to city council related to Cite and Release for minor nonviolent offenses. 2

4. Offer incentive pay for a designated number of officers to live in each of the 11 city council districts.

5. Conduct targeted recruitment efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI).

6. Preferential hiring consideration for applicants who reside within the city limits.

7. Eliminate the 48 Hour Rule as detailed in the current Meet and Confer Agreement.

8. Eliminate the 180 Day Rule as detailed in the current Meet and Confer Agreement.

9. A strategy should be implemented to determine what operations require when two officers must be assigned to a patrol car.

10. A designated citizen, appointed by new oversight board, must be present at the scene of all walk-throughs of officer involved shootings for observation.

11. 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.

12. All walk-throughs of the scene of officer involved shootings must be video recorded.

13. Officers involved in a shooting must submit a written statement of their recollection of the incident before seeing footage of the incident.

14. HPD General Orders, relevant crime data and statistics must be regularly updated and publicly accessible on the HPD website.

15. Random psychological exams shall be administered to selective officers throughout the year.

16. Mandatory community engagement hours in predominately minority areas for all patrol officers.

17. 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.

18. All new hire officers should be required to have a 4 year college degree.

19. No officer should be given overtime pay, or allowed to work off shift police jobs, while under investigation for police misconduct.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. A member of Houston City Council shall participate in the HPOU Meet and Confer negotiations; preferably the Vice Mayor Pro-Tem.

23. HPD officer recruiting process shall be reviewed with input from the African American Police Officers League (AAPOL) and Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers (OSSO).

24. 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.

25. Require the Chief of Police to sit before the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee upon request.