News 88.7 inDepth

Law Enforcement

Houston-area law enforcement agencies rally behind Whitmire’s call for greater coordination to fight crime

Houston Mayor John Whitmire is looking to increase the number of officers capable of responding to local calls for help while holding down cost increases. That will be a challenge.

JOHN WHITMIRE HOUSTON MAYORAL INAUGURATION 2024
Richard Carson
Houston Mayor John Whitmire during his inauguration on January 2, 2024.

Listen

To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="https://embed.hpm.io/475993/475940" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>
X

Local law enforcement leaders and at least two county commissioners are giving their support to Houston Mayor John Whitmire's proposals to tighten coordination between the Houston Police Department and other law enforcement agencies as a way of helping to reduce crime.

"As a group, we share that vision to work together," said Paul Cordova, Aldine ISD's police chief and the new president of the Houston Area Police Chiefs Association. "We want to jump on board and be part of the solution by working together, not separately in silos."

Rice University Police Chief Clemente Rodriguez, the association's immediate past president, said Whitmire's outreach marked a sea change from the previous administration. "We had not had Mayor (Sylvester) Turner. He had not come to any of our meetings," Rodriguez said. "Our association has been advocating for exactly what (Whitmire) talked about, which is collaboration among all the agencies."

paul cordova clemente rodriguez
Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media
Left: Paul Cordova, Aldine ISD's police chief and the new president of the Houston Area Police Chiefs Association, and Rice University Police Chief Clemente Rodriguez, the association’s immediate past president

In addition to the chiefs, Whitmire has reached out to Harris County Commissioner and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia, since there are more than 5,000 employees in the Sheriff's Office.

"If we can get the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office much more aligned and synchronized, then for all the other agencies that we have in Harris County, there’s a greater likelihood that we can then find better ways to be coordinated with them as well," Garcia said.

Garcia urged Whitmire to endorse a Uniform Offense Report for both HPD and the Sheriff's Office, a common form for Houston police officers and Harris County Sheriff's deputies to use when responding to calls.

"Having a more uniform report will then be helpful to the District Attorney’s Office as they work to prosecute those cases because they don’t have to retrain their eyes as they’re looking at two different offense reports, as an example," Garcia said.

Garcia said there would likely be some cost in the transition to a single form, but he argued that, in the long run, such a move could save both the city and the county money.

Bureaucracy isn't the only obstacle to greater coordination between HPD and other local law enforcement agencies. County Commissioner Tom Ramsey said there's also a technological hurdle.

"Everybody has different radios and different frequencies and different systems," Ramsey said. "I think over the last two years, we've made a great deal of progress, particularly if you're setting up a response, emergency command, during an emergency, that you have everybody on the same ‘wavelength.'"

MORE: Law enforcement experts discuss this story on Houston Matters

Listen

To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="https://embed.hpm.io/476073/475940" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>
X

Garcia and Ramsey also called for greater coordination between HPD and the county constables, a move that could give the city hundreds more officers to draw on. Ramsey said that much of unincorporated Harris County makes up for shortages in local policing by hiring Sheriff's and constables' deputies to patrol their neighborhoods through the county's Contract Deputy Program.

"There's more people that live in the unincorporated area of Harris County than live in the City of Houston, (but) the crime rate in the unincorporated area is a third of what it is in the City of Houston," Ramsey said. "I think we've got an idea or two on how to reduce crime in the city of Houston. And that idea is increasing the neighborhood patrols, much like you see increased patrols in the unincorporated area."

Critics of the Contract Deputy Program say it unfairly benefits wealthier communities.

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, meanwhile, is concerned that simply putting more police on the streets will lead to overcriminalization.

Click here for more inDepth features.

"We can't just continue to spend money the way we spent it in the past, because if we just keep increasing investments in traditional issues that have not helped, I think you ought to look at some of these alternative responder programs, and we've been very creative," Ellis said. "I think that it would be good if we found other partners who are willing to invest in some of those strategies as well. In addition to the significant increases we put in traditional boots on the ground."

Whitmire campaigned for office with a message of getting "tough-but-smart on crime." One of his steps after taking office was to meet with the Houston Area Police Chiefs Association. Whitmire said he was impatient to get started improving public safety.

"I don't want meetings," he told the chiefs. "We've been having meetings, I want action. And criminal justice is a system. Any component of it not working affects the entire system."

Whitmire said he will lead a recruiting drive for the Houston Police Department. The department has lost roughly 2,000 officers in recent years. Whitmire said that recruitment won't just mean training new cadets but also luring officers from other cities.

"I know for a fact there's Austin police officers that would like to move to Houston. We're getting calls from Seattle. So, we're going to look at our lateral hiring. We want people to come to Houston and want to work in law enforcement," Whitmire said.

Hiring more officers will take time and money, two things even Whitmire admits the city is short on. He said he wants to attract corporate sponsors to help new recruits meet basic expenses.

"Cadets have to purchase a $1,000 service revolver," Whitmire said. "You know how many of them have to go to the police credit union and borrow money to buy a revolver before they get their first HPD check? Nonsense!"

Whitmire said he'll seek to free up money for more spending on law enforcement by eliminating waste.

"After we cut out duplication and waste and conflicts of interest, if we don't have enough to keep people safe, we will go back to the public and tell them we need additional resources," Whitmire said, though he immediately suggested there would be difficulties requesting a public safety exception to the city's revenue cap.

In the meanwhile, Whitmire said he would also seek to leverage the 80-plus other police forces across the region as what he calls a "force multiplier." His first step: a proposal to have HPD absorb the Metro Police.

"Chief (Troy) Finner and I believe that if they were a part of a comprehensive plan, working with HPD, it would give the community more protection, as we allow the people working Metro lanes to get off the lines and go into the community," Whitmire said.

Whitmire has been less than transparent regarding his campaign proposal to bring an extra 200 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to Houston. Whitmire has spoken with DPS officials since taking office, but a public records request to City Hall found no official communications about a request to the governor for more troopers.

When pressed, Whitmire simply points to the existing DPS presence in the Houston area.

"They're here now," Whitmire said, without confirming any numbers. "They were pulling people over on (U.S.) 290 the other day. They're pulling them over on I-10."

Whitmire argued that any resistance to DPS' presence stemmed from people who wanted the program to fail, rather than any genuine concerns about DPS' performance when deployed to other cities. A Houston Public Media investigation, however, found that DPS deployments to Austin and Dallas led to significant spikes in arrests of Black and Latino residents out of proportion to their populations.

Whitmire has repeatedly said that any additional DPS deployment to Houston would be tightly controlled, a message Houston Police Chief Troy Finner echoed.

"All of the leaders that have come down from DPS have allowed the Sheriff and the Chief of Police and other agencies in their areas to drive the tactics, to drive how we're going to attack crime," Finner said. "That's the important thing."

Additional reporting by Ashley Brown