Primarily brought forth by the Court Democrats—County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precincts 1 and 2 Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia—items listed for consideration on the upcoming agenda range from an evaluation of the current budgeting for all criminal justice departments funded by the county to the creation of a public site in which the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Harris County Constables would be required to submit monthly reports disclosing officer uses of force to the public.
"Our criminal justice system is broken," Ellis wrote in a Facebook post June 8. "At Commissioners Court this Tuesday, we will be calling for changes that help end mass incarceration, improve indigent defense, hold police accountable and decrease racial disparities in the justice system. It is [past] time we get a justice system that works for all people."
Similarly, Garcia—a former Harris County Sheriff—also posted a statement to his Facebook page June 2 calling for criminal justice reform.
A total of 11 items related to the County's criminal justice system are listed under the emergency/supplemental items section of the agenda. The items read as follows.
- Request by the County Judge for discussion and possible action on tasking the Justice Administration Department and representatives of Commissioners Court with developing a process for meaningfully engaging the community in the current budgeting evaluations for all criminal justice departments funded by Harris County.
- Request by the County Judge for the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Harris County Constables Precincts to submit monthly reports to the Justice Administration Department, for sharing with Commissioners Court and publishing on a public site, on officer uses of force, including but not limited to those where a weapon was discharged and any related video footage, with the data identifying whether the officer was on or off duty, what kind of injury or injuries resulted, where the use of force occurred, and the race, ethnicity and gender of the person upon whom the officer used force.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for approval of a study to be conducted by the Justice Administration Department, in conjunction with the Commissioners Court's Analyst's Office, to analyze the feasibility of creating a county-level emergency responder program to handle certain first responder responsibilities that Harris County law enforcement agencies currently handle, with an initial update on findings within 30 days and the convening of public hearings upon completion of the report. The study should address: how the county could route 911 calls for mental health and substance abuse crisis to a non-law enforcement crises response team; an assessment of how best to structure crisis response teams to prevent crises before they occur and to engage with vulnerable populations to provide referrals for preventive care; and an assessment of the cost of fully funding enough crisis response teams to handle all appropriate calls for service.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for approval of a study to be conducted by the Justice Administration Department, in conjunction with the Commissioners Court's Analyst's Office, to analyze the feasibility and cost of creating a new county level agency or program to administer violence interruption programs based on proven public health techniques to end cycles of violence in the community. The study should contemplate how this agency or program would operate independent of law enforcement, with an initial report on findings of the study within 30 days and the convening of public hearings upon completion of the report.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for discussion and possible action regarding improvements to the county's indigent defense system.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for discussion and possible action to improve accountability and transparency in use-of-force incidents by law enforcement, including the need for an independent oversight body with power to subpoena documents and witnesses, greater transparency after incidents of force and improved use-of-force policies and data keeping, with possible action including the approval of a study to assess the feasibility and cost of creating a Harris County Civilian Oversight Board with subpoena power, independence from law enforcement, authority to discipline, sufficient resources and access to specially trained, non-law enforcement investigators to investigate claims against law enforcement officers in order to review allegations of use of force by law enforcement within Harris County. It should assess best practices and make recommendations about how to empower a rigorous community oversight authority in Harris County, and there should be an initial report on findings of the study within 30 days and the convening of public hearings upon completion of the report.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for approval of a study by the Justice Administration Department, in conjunction with the Commissioners Court’s Analyst’s Office, that identifies best practices and makes recommendations for effective intervention alternatives to the utilization of punitive criminal justice responses to address issues of poverty, homelessness, public health and mental health, substance use and violence prevention. It should identify the best approaches to improve public and community health, improve violence prevention, reduce racial disparities in our justice system, reduce incarceration, and otherwise enable our communities to thrive. The analysis should look at programs in Harris County and other large cities and counties, such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, designated to reduce criminal justice system involvement and disparities in the criminal justice system, including but not limited to non-law enforcement violence prevention and first responder programs based on proven public health techniques; analyze the short- and long-term cost-effectiveness of current criminal justice approaches compared to potential non-criminal justice intervention alternatives; and make recommendations for funding or investing in existing or potential programs and structures that further these goals. The study should provide preliminary responses within 30 days with preliminary findings, recommended next steps to complete the analysis, and additional resources needed to expedite the process. Upon completion of a final report, there shall be a public hearing to present findings.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for discussion and possible action to address the criminalization of poverty within Harris County, including the imposition of criminal fines, fees, cash bail and the disparate impact of such practices on individuals on low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups. The Justice Administration Department shall submit a report and recommendations regarding the imposition of fines and fees associated with criminal offenses, the consequences of unpaid fines, the use and consequences of cash bail in pretrial detention, and disparate enforcement or impact of such practices on low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, nd any other vulnerable groups, and report preliminary findings within 60 days. Once the report is complete, the findings shall be presented at a public hearing.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for discussion and possible action to address mass incarceration in Harris County and the need to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the criminal justice system. The Justice Administration Department shall biannually report on current racial disparities in our justice system and shall be responsible for regularly collecting, tracking, and reporting such information as well as for reporting on how the county should perform a root cause analysis to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The initial report should track disparities at various stages of the criminal justice process, from patrol to case disposition; identify the root causes of those disparities; provide evidence-based recommendations to remedy the identified disparities; and report preliminary findings within 60 days. Once the report is complete, the findings should be presented at a public hearing.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct One for approval of a resolution remembering George Floyd; condemning the use of the criminal justice system to use mass incarceration to systematically oppress, discriminate against and inflict violence upon people of color; and calling for fundamental reforms to shift away from overcriminalization to focus on public health and violence prevention services that will make communities safer.
- Request by the Commissioner of Precinct Two for discussion and possible action on directing the Justice Administration Department to work with Harris County law enforcement agencies to develop a model use of force policy that such agencies may adopt and to work with such agencies to develop training budgets for the implementation of said policy. The model policy should be designed to prevent unnecessary use of force, ensure transparency and accountability and build and strengthen relationships between Harris County law enforcement and the communities they are charged to protect and serve. The policy should address both deadly and nondeadly use of force, alternatives to use of force and de-escalation techniques as well as reporting requirements, including development of a data collection form that may be used to report use of force incidents, allegations and findings by officer. The Justice Administration Department is authorized to work with academic, nonprofit and community organizations on this task and provide Commissioners Court with a status update at its meeting July 28, 2020.
The June 9 meeting will broadcast live on the Harris County website beginning at 10 a.m. To sign up to address the court on any of the aforementioned items, click here.