Purchase of helmets, face shields for Houston police draws questions from council members

Houston Police officers wearing helmets
A city council vote July 29 turned into a broader discussion on protesting and the militarization of police equipment. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

A city council vote July 29 turned into a broader discussion on protesting and the militarization of police equipment. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

With heightened attention on police use of force since the death of Houstonian George Floyd and subsequent protests, purchases for the Houston Police Department have come under greater scrutiny from council members.

A $166,000 grant application for helmets and face shields was met with questions from Council Members Tiffany Thomas and Letitia Plummer when it was taken up for consideration July 29 after getting pulled from a previous agenda.

Police equipment purchases only make up 10% of the department’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget; they are often supplemented by grant applications, which are often approved by council votes.

Thomas said she supported the purchase but wanted to know more about when the equipment would and would not be deployed.

At-Large Council Member Mike Knox, a former police officer, responded to Thomas’ remarks by saying that the equipment was necessary protection, particularly during protests.


“They’re to protect against a little virus known as frozen, plastic water bottles,” Knox said, referring to anecdotes of assaults on police officers during protests.

Houston’s recent demonstrations remained largely peaceful, with 654 participants arrested out of an estimated 60,000 participants. Harris County Attorney Kim Ogg later dropped charges of nonviolent trespassing and obstruction of roadway but upheld a remaining 54 charges filed against 51 of the protesters.

All council members except for At-Large Council Member Letitia Plummer voted in favor of the application.

Plummer, who has been outspoken on police reform, said she found Knox’s comment offensive.

“Directing this to protests only is what really alarms our public. ... It’s dangerous for council members to make comments that create more fear,” Plummer said. “I feel like it's just irresponsible to bring fear back into conversations about these protests.”

Other council members voiced support for the equipment for use in responding to active shooter events and other unpredictable circumstances.

"The use is not aimed at any one group. We have events taking place every single day," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "We have them so that our officers can go home to their families safely at the end of the day."


MOST RECENT

The number of deaths reported has been declining for the past three week, according to the Texas Medical Center. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Medical Center: COVID-19 hospitalizations down 10% since Aug. 3

The number of deaths reported has been declining for the past three week, according to the Texas Medical Center.

Harris County leaders discussed this week whether to raise or lower property taxes. (Courtesy Fotolia)
UPDATED: Harris Co. commissioners eyeing property tax rates

This article was updated Aug. 8 to clarify that an 8% tax rate increase is not considered to be on the table by commissioners.

A mother and daughter visit at Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care in Conroe earlier in the pandemic. (Courtesy Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care)
Texas allows limited visitations to nursing homes, long-term care facilities

Facilities that meet the requirements will allow limited visitations, but you still will not be able to hug or kiss your loved one.

HomeAid Houston partnered with Boys and Girls Country to open three cottages in Hockley. (Courtesy Boys and Girls Country)
Builders partner to serve homeless population through nonprofit HomeAid Houston

Since launching in 2003, the organization has helped provide 20,000 beds for homeless individuals in the Houston area.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's police reform task force is gathering more community input. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Police reform task force asks Houston residents to share opinions through Aug. 9

The Houston Mayor's Task Force on Policing Reform is circulating a survey among Houston neighborhoods to collect opinions from residents.

An online training course to help prepare Houston ISD parents for the virtual return to school is set to go live Aug. 10. (Courtesy Canva)
Houston ISD to launch parent educational course on virtual learning Aug. 10

The district is asking parents to complete the course by Sept. 4.

The 2020 U.S. census response rate is already lagging behind 2010 numbers, and officials said the shortened timeline only increases the chances of an undercount. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Shortened census timeline could shortchange Houston, its most vulnerable communities

The 2020 U.S. census response rate is already lagging behind 2010 numbers, and officials said the shortened timeline only increases the chances of an undercount.

The farm-to-table restaurant plans to create 90 jobs and offer familiar American meals. (Courtesy Whiskey Cake)
Whiskey Cake restaurant to open in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

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

The overall death total in Harris County hit 805, with the majority of deaths—78%—occurring in individuals ages 60 and older. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 17 deaths confirmed Aug. 5, including man in his 20s

The overall death total hit 805, with the majority of deaths—78%—occurring in individuals ages 60 and older.