Two weeks after the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who killed Houstonian George Floyd, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Police Chief Troy Finner announced policy adoptions that will reform policing in Harris County.
In a press conference on Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Houston will be adopting policy recommendations from the Task Force on Policing Reform.
The 153 page report released in September of last year will address issues in the system including mental health, domestic abuse, and human trafficking. As well as no-knock warrants, body cam footage, and excessive force.
The Task Force on Police Reform was initially created by Turner in 2020 following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis.
Turner said he plans to adopt the majority of the task force recommendations to build trust between the community and law enforcement.
HPD Police Chief Troy Finner agreed with Turner on creating guidelines of consistency, transparency, and accountability in the department.
“If the Chief of Police or police officers can’t listen and hear the citizens and feel their hearts, we aren’t going to be successful,” he said. “This is the start with much more to come.”
According to Finner, a key recommendation in the report and among citizens is that HPD will be required to release body-worn camera footage of critical incidents in a timely manner.
So Finner said HPD will be adopting the body cam footage recommendation.
“Within 30 days we are releasing all officer involved shootings where there is an injury or a death. Period,” Finner said.
Finner said the 30 day mark was created so that the department does not release footage “prematurely.”
“If it’s a shooting where you have multiple officers that discharge or multiple officers who viewed [the shooting] and their cameras are on we have to look at all of that,” he said. “We have to go through redactions by law and they’re some incidents by law that we can’t release if it’s in a private home or private space. We have to get permission from those individuals to release that.”
In the conference, Turner announced adopting the Police Transparency Task Board website which will include a complaint form and data dashboard. This allows citizens to file a complaint on law enforcement officers anonymously or not.
Turner said the 45-member task force also recommended expanding relationships with law enforcement, social services organizations, and mental health professionals.
“This is a critical investment in helping to build out the ecosystem that will bring about public safety through addressing public health,” Turner said. “We can’t expect and ask for the police to be the responders in all cases in these matters.”
Houston Medical Director Dr. David Persse said we need to start treating mental illness like any other illness.
“The first responder to a mental health crisis and when we think of law enforcement in America we don’t always think of them as a mental health provider and yet they are thrust into that position,” Persse said.
HPD Chief Finner said the mental health proposals being adopted will help law enforcement officers when responding to a mental health emergency.
Another recommendation Turner said the city is adopting is hiring additional counselors and increasing the number of mobile outreach teams to “lighten the load on officers.”
This new proposal is called the Clinician Officer Remote Evaluation or CORE which would require the city to hire 36 more clinical professionals. Turner also said Houston is also adopting a citywide domestic abuse response team with victim advocates and forensic nurse examiners as first responders.
“Even if there’s not a clinician or a counselor riding with those officers and they come up on a certain situation they can use the telehealth technology to put them in touch with the clinician to get advice or suggestions on how to move forward,” Turner said.
Turner said because of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan this proposal is possible.
“My recommendation to the council members is to utilize about 25 million dollars to address this portion of the reform,” Turner said.
Turner also announced a new Houston Safe Harbor District Court that will help citizens who can’t afford to pay for their municipal fines and fees. This was created to prevent unnecessary additional arrest warrants being issued in the city.
“If there is a situation where you need assistance with any of the traffic citations or warrants pending against you please do not hesitate to come into the courtroom,” Houston Safe Harbor Court Director and Presiding Judge J. Elaine Marshall said.
Turner also appointed Steve Ives, President and CEO of YMCA of the Greater Houston area, to lead the newly reformed independent police oversight board and Crystal Okorfa to become the Deputy Inspector General to the newly created office of Police Reform and Accountability Office.
Larry Payne, Chair of the Police Reform Board said he was “blown away” to see the recommendations of the board become a reality.
“Police reform is society reform,” he said. “What is ahead of us as Houstonians is to be truly truly the example to the rest of urban cities in this country,” Payne said.
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