Before a series of reforms were implemented in April, the board was the subject of criticism from current and former members as well as police reform advocates who viewed it as dysfunctional.
“[The board] operates inside a closed system without the ability to investigate, conduct its own interviews, or do anything else but follow the narrative offered to them,” nine-year board member Kristin Anderson wrote in an August resignation letter.
A study from the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research released in November found it was the least effective police accountability mechanism in the state.
The seven new members appointed July 7 are Kiara Gradney, Matthew M. Sweeney, Tobias A. Cole, Johnny Solis III, Cortlan J. Wickliff, Bianca Roberson and Sonia Corrales. Former board Chair Marvin Hamilton was also succeeded by new Chair Steven Ives. Ives is the CEO of the Houston YMCA. Rhoda Chanin Clamen and Stephanie Bundage Juvane were reappointed.
Members can serve a maximum of four consecutive two-year terms and are appointed on a staggered basis. The total board is made of 21 members and four alternates.
"This is the most important thing that is going to happen in this city and quite frankly this county. ... I recognize that good people with good intentions with a strong system of accountability just do a better job," Ives said at a press conference announcing the mayor’s latest reform efforts.
Reforms to the board
Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order April 29 to restructure the board and replace its chair.
Changes also included establishing a new position, the deputy inspector general. The Mayor's Task Force on Policing Reform report stated strengthening the role of the inspector general’s office is a crucial way to add independent investigative powers to the review process for police misconduct complaints rather than only placing the responsibility with the police department as the prior process dictated.
Crystal Okorafor, an assistant district attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, assumed the deputy inspector general role May 11. It is not clear yet, however, whether one additional employee will be sufficient to address the amount of cases the board reviews, said Steve Sherman, a Rice University researcher specializing in police policy.
“My first reaction was that this is a tremendous amount of work for one person and a group of volunteers,” Sherman told Community Impact Newspaper in May. “My first concern was staffing.”
Residents are now able to file misconduct complaints directly with Okorafor’s office or submit them though a new online reporting system. The system will be available in multiple languages and allow complaints to be filed anonymously and without getting notarized. The task force determined the previous complaint process was prohibitive because it required those filing complaints to submit paper complaints directly to the police department and have them notarized.
Although notarization is still required by state law, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said residents will be able to submit them without notarization, and the police department will help facilitate the notarization process.