Funding, transparency and accountability take center stage at Houston police reform meeting

The Houston City Council Public Safety Committee gathered public input on police reforms June 25. (Nola Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Houston City Council Public Safety Committee gathered public input on police reforms June 25. (Nola Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Houston City Council Public Safety Committee gathered public input on police reforms June 25. (Nola Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)

From a list of nearly 250 speakers signed up to comment during Houston City Council Public Safety Committee meeting June 25, calls to defund, reorganize and further hold police officers accountable for misconduct dominated the conversation.

The purpose of the meeting was to review how the Houston Police Department and its coordinating entities respond to and investigate officer-involved shootings. Council Member Abbie Kamin, chair of the committee, organized the meeting in response to a string of six police shootings in Houston since January.

With renewed focus on the issue spurred by the death of Houstonian George Floyd in Minneapolis in police custody and the subsequent nationwide protests, many speakers reported growing impatience with the results of previous police reform efforts.

“We deserve a seat at the table. ... Everything that I have heard up until this point has been the same old rhetoric for 40 years. Now, it's time for no more reform; it's time for change,” said Synnachia McQueen, who lives in Third Ward, the same neighborhood Floyd was from.

A series of exchanges between City Council members and the chair of the Houston Independent Police Oversight Board, Marvin Hamilton, exposed a lack of transparency that many speakers latched onto during the comment session.


When Council Member Edward Pollard asked Hamilton how a member of the board becomes chair, Hamilton replied, “Simply by being a good panel member.”

When Pollard asked who makes that decision, Hamilton replied that he, the chair of the board, decides who serves as chair.

After an unclear explanation of what types notations the oversight board takes of its weekly meetings, Hamilton told Council Member Carolyn Evans Shabazz that he cannot release meeting notes to the public but can confirm that they exist.

“I had a whole spiel ready for this, but after the presentations, I was underwhelmed,” commenter Timothy Green said. “The oversight committee has incompetent leadership. That was a joke.”

Shelley Kennedy, a former candidate for the Houston City Council District C seat held by Kamin, called in to comment and said that she believed the board needed more independence from the police department, the power to issue subpoenas and more ability to communicate their findings.

“I am a current member of the Independent Police Oversight Board, and we are not allowed to speak on any of the cases we review,” Kennedy said. “But as an activist, it keeps me up at night. When I suggested that there be a liaison to City Council to be able to see what we see, the answer given to me was that the Office of the Inspector General was the liaison, but they didn’t see the same footage we do.”

Some of the dozens of speakers who called in asking for reduced police funding cited the lack of transparency among police oversight boards boards and its lack of independent authority as an example of failed police reform efforts.

“This whole call has shown us that reform does not work. These measures of psych testing and wellness are valued and appreciated but not mandatory. The process of screening cops who are moving around is not transparent, and the chief who called in—the policy wasn’t even clear to him,” speaker Loyce G. said. “How are we supposed to truly believe that all these measures put into place to actually make sure that everybody is accountable are even working?”

The speaker said she echoed other commenters who called for a 25% decrease in police funding per year and, ultimately, the abolition of the department.

Others, however, still saw opportunities for reform.

“One solution is about creating an oversight board to reflect us, chosen by us and that also is inclusive with some law enforcement officers but also stakeholders who have a vested interest in our communities,” said Angela Johnson, an Acres Homes resident and member of Texas Organizing Project. “We need principals, people like myself who are former law enforcement officers, past sheriffs, food service workers, bus drivers, coaches—these are the people who are actively communicating with our communities every day.”

The contract between the city and the Houston Police Officers Union was also the target of calls for increased transparency and accountability. The contract outlines salary and benefits, such as pension and liability insurance for the city’s police officers. Negotiations are ongoing leading up to the contract’s expiration Dec. 31, 2020.

A lawyer for the Texas Workers Defense project laid out a series of policy suggestions, including keeping the contract negotiations open to the public.

Contractual obligations make up 92% of the police budget, meaning they could not be altered during the June 10 City Council vote.

Kamin said that a compilation of all the comments and suggestions offered at the June 25 meeting in addition to answers to questions asked by public speakers will be available to the public by July 15.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


MOST RECENT

Houston reports 100,000 gallons of wastewater spilled amid flooding

The spills were reported near downtown and the Heights area along White Oak Bayou.

Ostia will serve Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine in the Montrose area. (Courtesy Jenn Duncan/Ostia)
New Montrose restaurant Ostia sets opening date

Chef Travis McShane brings his well-traveled experience back to Houston.

George Buenik, Houston's director of safety and homeland security, urged residents to stay home throughout the day and evening Sept. 22. (Courtesy Houston Office of Emergency Management)
Tropical Depression Beta: Houston officials urge residents to stay home over next 24 hours

More rain bands will continue to cross the region through the day and into the evening.

The deadline to register to vote in Harris County is approaching. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Here’s how to register to vote in Harris County

Sept. 22 is National Voter Registration Day, a nonpartisan, civic effort to encourage eligible U.S. citizens to confirm their voter registration status in time for the upcoming election.

Greentown Labs
Clean-energy incubator Greentown Labs to take over Midtown Fiesta

There is a green future for the Midtown Fiesta.

Former Houston ISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby is the target of a federal civil suit. (Community Impact staff)
Federal court filing: $186,000 seized from former Houston ISD official, contractor under investigation

The official is no longer employed by the district, and Houston ISD is not named in the filing.

Dessert Gallery is holding monthly giveaways to celebrate its 25th year in business. Its first featured gift is a half-dozen piñata cupcakes. (Courtesy Dessert Gallery)
Dessert Gallery celebrates 25 years of sweets in Houston

For the rest of the year, the bakery and cafe will feature monthly product giveaways.

Alto Houstono
Ride-hailing app Alto expanding to Houston

Dallas-based ride-hailing service Alto has its sights set on Houston for its first expansion market.

The Harris County Department of Education lowered its tax rate for the 2020-21 fiscal year. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Harris County Department of Education lowers tax rate for 2020-21

For the average homestead valued at $182,484, that means taxpayers will contribute $9.11 to support its programs.

Another 1,372 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Harris County over the Sept. 19-20 weekend along with 48 deaths caused by the virus. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Texas Medical Center positivity rate under 5% for two straight weeks

A low positivity rate is one of three metrics medical center officials are tracking that they say may indicate a declining spread of the virus.

Free COVID-19 testing will be available to festival staff, participants and patrons every weekend of the festival this fall. (Courtesy Steven David Photography)
Free COVID-19 testing at Texas Renaissance Festival and more Houston-area news

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