After a violent weekend marred by mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, as well as 11 individual shootings in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced an additional $1.5 million investment in overtime pay for the Houston Police Department.
“There’s a lot of nervousness that exists within society across the board. It is important that we are enhancing our relationships in our neighborhoods, mosques, churches, synagogues. … It’s important for people to know that we are enhancing our presence for people who are refugees and immigrants … and that we are enhancing our presence to protect them,” Turner said.
The pay will be used to staff officers assigned to new tactical operations and should last the department “at least through the end of the summer,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a joint press conference held with the mayor Aug. 7.
While details of the tactical plans cannot be shared publicly, Acevedo said, the funding will go toward a coordinated effort to investigate potential threats and target high-risk areas.
“What it’s going to give us is boots on the ground when necessary and additional investigative capacity when necessary. It also sends a strong message that we are standing up together with the American Council of Mayors to make that a priority,” Acevedo said.
Both Turner and Acevedo noted the upcoming weekend, Aug. 9-11, is a tax-free weekend that brings out many shoppers ahead of the upcoming school year. Turner said he does not want Houston residents to fear the event but urged vigilance.
“If you see something, say something. If somebody has said something that’s disturbing, we want you to let us know because it takes a collective community effort,” he said.
Acevedo said the department regularly coordinates with store owners for increased security as well. He told reporters the increased vigilance is not a direct result of a specific mass shooting threat to the city of Houston but rather a preventative measure.
In reference to more long-term plans, Turner said he is re-evaluating how the city can implement recommendations from the mayor’s committee on gun safety.
The recommendations include implementing background checks for gun purchases within the city, working with the Houston Area Women’s Center to identify domestic abusers and promoting safe gun storage practices—a measure recently promoted by the Texas Legislature. He said enforcing background checks needs to be further explored to ensure it would comply with state law.
Council members react
Several Houston City Council members spoke out to condemn the weekend’s deadly violence during the City Council meeting preceding the press conference.
District C Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen said she plans to work with the mayor to implement the committee against gun violence’s recommendations.
“I am tired of wearing orange; I’m tired of prayers and thoughts; I’m tired of vigils; I’m tired of commissions; I’m tired of excuses; I’m tired of little children getting hold of guns they were able to reach; I’m tired of teenagers playing with guns that were supposedly unloaded; I’m tired of hatemongers mowing down innocent people; … I’m tired of those state and federal elected officials who have not used their power to change gun laws; and I’m tired of those people who voted for them. I’m tired, but I’m not prepared to give up,” she said.
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, whose district includes much of east downtown, said he extended his condolences to the victims of all of the recent shootings and said they stoke fears in immigrant communities.
“The shooting in El Paso is particularly disturbing to many of us as it appears to be motivated by racist and anti-immigrant beliefs, and sadly this president has created an environment in which some individuals have felt that it’s OK to attack people of color and immigrants in particular,” he said.
District A City Council Member Brenda Stardig, whose district includes the Spring Branch area, said following the meeting she will have more details of the overtime pay brought to the public safety committee for further consideration and input from its members.
“In my district alone, I’ve spent over $780,000 in council district service funds on increasing public safety,” Stardig said. “We need to have a broad plan across the entire city to protect our citizens. We need to be bringing everyone together to feel safe and secure.”