As George Floyd is buried, Harris County launches broad range of criminal justice studies

Attendees waited in line at The Fountain of Praise church to pay their final respects to George Floyd on June 8. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
Attendees waited in line at The Fountain of Praise church to pay their final respects to George Floyd on June 8. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

Attendees waited in line at The Fountain of Praise church to pay their final respects to George Floyd on June 8. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

The same day a funeral was held in Houston for George Floyd—a Houston native who died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota—the Harris County Commissioners Court approved a broad range of studies into the county's criminal justice system.

However, the question still remains of where funding could eventually come from to implement future changes that come from those studies.

The studies cover topics ranging from racial disparities in the criminal justice system and the criminalization of poverty to the examination of whether to create a civilian oversight board to investigate allegations of abuse of force by local police.

The court did not direct immediate funds to any effort, but one of the bigger lifts is likely to involve future spending—a request from Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis to look at how alternative programs could be used to reduce criminal justice interventions for issues related to poverty, mental health and substance abuse. Although no specific programs were discussed, Ellis said he wanted to "put a marker" of $25 million on the effort to show people the county was willing to commit to real changes instead of only passing resolutions.

“I don’t want to do a resolution. I think we resolve enough," Ellis said at the June 9 virtual meeting. "I’m trying to show a serious commitment to it. If we don’t come up with programs that make good sense, I’ll be against [them], but I want to put a marker down.”

Few specific policy changes were made at the meeting, with preliminary findings from most of the approved studies slated to come back to commissioners court in 30 days. Those findings will also eventually be presented at a series of public hearings.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez spoke at the meeting, acknowledging that law enforcement may not need to be on the front lines of mental health, addiction and poverty to the degree they currently are. However, he argued that defunding police forces should not be the go-to solution to find funding for new programs.

"At the end of the day, there's still violent crime out there. Somebody out there still has to protect the community. We need to be able to solve crimes. We need to make sure that we're paying our deputies good money," Gonzalez said. "Whether it be COVID, [Hurricane] Harvey or going into gunfire, they are always there to answer the call, and they should be paid more. We can be supportive of law enforcement and be against police brutality."

Gonzalez said the sheriff's office has created programs for substance abuse and mental health calls that have been successful.

"There is no need to dissolve those or do away with those," he said.

Ellis said he was open to finding funding from other areas, but reiterated his belief that something needs to change, and those changes will require funding.

Unlike the city of Houston, which is currently preparing to adopt its fiscal year 2020-21 budget, Harris County adopts annual budgets in March, and budget talks typically begin in the fall.

As studies are underway, some shorter-term policy changes could also be put into place. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo proposed the creation of a public site where instances of police use-of-force would be compiled, along with video footage and details on the race, ethnicity and genders of those involved.

Before the motion passed 5-0, Hidalgo adjusted it under guidance from the county attorney to clarify that local law enforcement agencies were not being forced to submit reports and were being asked to do so voluntarily.

By unanimous vote, the court also directed the Justice Administration Department to work with law enforcement agencies—the sheriff's department, each constable's office, the county attorney, the district attorney and the fire marshal—to come up with a uniform policy for how law enforcement uses force. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he would like to see techniques such as choke holds and hog tying explicitly prohibited in the policy.

"We may have good policies now, but the question of whether we have a consistent, uniform policy [for] all agencies I think would be very good for the many reasons I spoke about earlier, ensuring that we do not have to wonder whether we have defensible, appropriate and comprehensive policies, ” Garcia said.

Gonzales said the sheriff's office has already banned choke holds and neck restraints, but agreed with the effort to review those policies. As of June 10, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said the eight constables were working on creating a unified policy with plans to take it to the sheriff's office and district attorney's office in the near future.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


Shirts23, a wholesale blank and custom T-shirt retailer, is slated to open a storefront Jan. 25 at 8805 Jones Road, Ste. A105, Jersey Village. (Courtesy Facebook)
Shirts23 opening Jan. 25 on Jones Road in Cy-Fair

Shirts23, a wholesale blank and custom T-shirt retailer, is slated to open a storefront Jan. 25 at 8805 Jones Road, Ste. A105, Jersey Village.

If approved, the Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District could take on all future dredging in Lake Houston. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
To-be-filed bill could fund dredging in Lake Houston by charging additional surface water fee

The conservation and reclamation district would have the power to take out bonds to fund projects. The bonds would be paid through a fee charged to utility providers who purchase surface water from Lake Houston.

Metta's Local Eats exceeded its $10,000 goal in their most recent fundraiser. (Courtesy David Postma, Genesis Photographers)
Social media group inspires local restaurateurs to raise more than $27,000 for Cy-Fair Helping Hands

The Metta's Local Eats Dine Out for Charity fundraiser put the local nonprofit closer to its goal of a future expansion, officials said.

COVID-19 vaccines
DATA: Texas has vaccinated about 9% of estimated Phase 1 recipients

Over 1.1 million individuals from the Phase 1 population, which is estimated to include 13.5 million individuals total, have received at least one dose.

Bob Popinski, policy director of Raise Your Hand Texas, shared the organization's top education priorities for the ongoing legislative session. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
‘What does virtual learning and remote learning look like moving forward?': Raise Your Hand Texas policy director talks legislative priorities

Bob Popinski is the director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, an Austin-based organization committed to improving public education. He spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in late December about the 87th legislative session, which began Jan. 12.

More than 1,200 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Cy-Fair ISD. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Nearly 300 new COVID-19 cases reported in Cy-Fair ISD schools Jan. 11-17

COVID-19 case numbers in the district increased by 63% over the previous week.

Bayou City Art Festival Downtown is scheduled to return in person in October. (Courtesy Katya Horner/Bayou City Art Festival)
Bayou City Art Festival scheduled for in-person return in October

The Memorial Park version of the festival will be celebrated through alternative virtual and smaller in-person events.

Owner Miguel Segovia took over the Jones Road location of Luigi’s Ristorante Italiano in 2007. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Luigi’s Ristorante Italiano: Owner carries on legacy of Cy-Fair staple

The beauty of Italian food—according to Miguel Segovia, who has been running Luigi’s Ristorante Italiano on Jones Road since 2007—is in the sauce.

At a Jan. 15 emergency court hearing, officials came up with a plan to try to reduce the inmate population at the Harris County Jail that centers on hosting more bail reduction hearings. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
With open beds dwindling, officials look for ways to reduce Harris County jail population

The inmate population at the Harris County Jail is rising, and officials are looking for ways to quickly ease the pressure as concerns grow over the ability to quarantine and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Bocca Italian Kitchen serves seasonal, Italian-inspired dishes, such as polenta and various pastas. (Courtesy Marco Torres)
Italian eateries open in Generation Park; Houston bike lane fines enforced and more local news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Officials said Beacon Hill will help spur future growth in the city of Waller and in the surrounding area. (Rendering courtesy Wolff Companies)
Wolff Companies acquires additional 43 acres for Beacon Hill development in Waller

Plans for the 564-acre project include a business park along the future Hwy. 290 frontage road and about 870 single-family homes.

Officials expect demand for the vaccine will be huge once it opens to the general public. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County plans vaccine distribution; FDA warns of false negatives and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular stories from the past week from the Houston area.