Most of what Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has done so far during his term has been an improvement over his predecessor. But, while his political skills may be superior, his administration hasn’t improved in terms of transparency.
Houston is currently in the hunt for a new Chief of Police. Turner has tasked a private executive search firm to manage the process and to keep the potential candidates a secret until one is selected. The firm – Russell Reynolds Associates – is conducting the search for free, and since taxpayers aren’t paying for the service the records aren’t subjected to the Texas Public Information Act.
This is a complete reversal from former Mayor Annise Parker, whose process included releasing the applications of twenty-six candidates that she was vetting for the position.
As the fourth – soon to be third – largest city with the fifth largest police force in the nation it goes without saying that the position wields immense power.
The culture of any organization is set from the top down. Whoever is placed at the helm of HPD will have the ability to reform the department to their liking. As such, taxpayers and activists deserve a say in that process.
There is a growing frustration among activists and residents as local reports surfaced pointing to over 150 police shootings since 2010 with HPD justifying every one.
The City is currently facing a lawsuit regarding one of those shootings. In August 2015, Alan Pean was suffering a mental health crisis in a Houston hospital. When police caught Pean stumbling naked around the hospital he was shot. Neither officer was disciplined so Pean is now suing the City of Houston, the two police officers, the hospital, and others.
The Associated Press reported, “Community leaders have credited the recently retired police chief’s public outreach efforts with helping maintain calm.” It’s important for residents to be reassured that the next chief is as concerned with public outreach efforts. It isn’t about selecting a chief that represents the demographics of the city, but it’s about selecting a chief whose plans for the department reflect the needs and wants of city residents.
Houston needs a chief who will support and grow the Positive Interaction Program and who will imbed community policing into the fabric of the department so it becomes instinctive rather than just another program. This means a chief who looks to hire and place officers in areas of the city where they are, or can become, members of the community.
Now, more than ever, this process needs to be open and transparent. In a time when many voices feel they aren’t being heard, is it wise to exclude them from such an important process?