Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a revised meet-and-confer agreement between the city and the Houston Police Officers’ Union in early March that would provide a 10.5% pay raise for police officers during a three-year period and make adjustments to police oversight.
The contract is expected to go before Houston City Council for approval at its March 23 meeting.
Turner was joined by HPOU President Douglas Griffith, HPOU Executive Director Ray Hunt and Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner on March 3 to announce the new contract. In total, the contract represents a $125 million investment in the police department, Turner said. According to a tweet from Turner, police officers are included in One Safe Houston's funds.
"I want to underscore that we are adding more police, adding technology and making commitments to their pay," Turner said during the press conference. "We also are significantly increasing pay to officers on patrol because they are on the streets, arresting criminals, and we want to recognize their service to the police department and the people of our city."
If approved, the 10.5% increase will happen in increments. The first year of added pay will be 4%; the second year will be 3%; and the third year will be 3.5%.
Turner also announced a revision to the city's 180-day rule, which prevents HPD from disciplining officers involved in misconduct that occurred more than six months prior. If approved, the start time of the 180-day countdown would be changed to the day the incident is discovered, rather than the day the incident takes place.
Under the existing system, critics said the window on discipling an officer could close if the department does not find out about an incident taking place soon enough. The change was made following recommendations from the city's police reform special task force.
According to an email from Turner’s staff, “the changes to the 180-day rule provides the police chief with the discretion to indefinitely suspend police officers who engage in serious misconduct no matter when the department discovers the alleged misconduct.”
The 180-day rule was one of two key areas in the contract previously identified by advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union as needing the be reformed. Nick Hudson, a policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU, said the rule still needs further changes.
“The problem with the 180-day rule is that the contract language fails to specify [to] whom in the department misconduct has to be reported to start the 180-day clock to investigate and impose discipline,” Hudson said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper.
Hudson said this could still create situations where the 180-day window closes before discipline can be imposed or investigated.
In a phone interview with Community Impact Newspaper, Griffith said the revision to the 180-day rule allows for more transparency between the police force and the public.
“We don’t want people here that are committing felonies, or crimes of moral turpitude, which is mostly what [the 180-day rule] entails,” Griffith said.
The second area advocates were seeking to reform relates to the so-called 48-hour rule, which allows police officers accused of misconduct 48 hours to review evidence—such as body-worn camera footage, internal affairs reviews and written statements against them—before providing a statement.
“The 48-hour provision really undermines effective investigations into police misconduct,” Hudson said. “It allows officers who might be involved in misconduct time to review evidence [and] coordinate stories, and it just reduces the likelihood that officers will be held accountable for excessive force.”
However, Griffith said the 48-hour rule is a state statute. The rule also allows for a police chief to fire a police officer within those 48 hours, removing them of any power they held, but Griffith said it is seldom used.
During the March 3 press conference, Finner emphasized the department's hiring efforts. Those wanting to be police officers do not need to have any college experience, allowing for a life-experience program, he said.
When applying to HPD, potential employees now only need at least three years of full-time employment during the last four years prior to applying, Finner said.
The contract has been under negotiation between the city and HPOU for the past four months, Griffith said. In Houston, the process takes place behind closed doors, another facet that some advocates have taken issue with.
Hudson said other cities that do negotiations in public are able to get more rounds of recommendations.
“What we have, instead of a process that keeps the contract on the rails and ensures that it’s living up to the community standards, is something that was negotiated behind closed doors in secrecy,” Hudson said. “It was just announced as an agreement without any meaningful input from the public.”
Houston officials said the city meets with all parties involved while keeping the interests of the citizens in mind to try to achieve a positive outcome.
“An individual party’s desired outcome is not always achievable when balancing the various interests," the city said in an email statement to Community Impact Newspaper.
According to Griffith, HPOU is pleased with the outcome of the meet-and-confer contract. He said it was a good give-and-take compromise that he thinks everyone is happy with.
“As a whole, we think it’s a good contract,” Griffith said. “We believe it's fair to city and federal officers, and again, it’s a working effort.”
In the March 3 press conference, Finner said about 70% of the police force signed their names in approval of the contract.