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City of Houston

Mayor Turner Releases 150-Page Houston Police Reform Task Force Report

The document contains 104 reform proposals, including changes to the Independent Police Oversight Board and additional mental health crisis training.

City of Houston
Mayor Sylvester Turner announcing the recommendations of his police reform task force on Sept. 30, 2020.

A Houston police reform task force set up by Mayor Sylvester Turner released its full report Wednesday, recommending more than 100 reforms the city could take to improve the department.

The full report, which came in at 153 pages, recommended reforms to the Independent Police Oversight Board, expanded training for cadets, training for mental health interventions, and a slew of other reforms.

The 45-person task force was set up by Turner after the death of Houston native George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police — a death that was caught on video. The group was assigned with drafting ways to improve relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.

"This is a transformational moment for our city as we seek to improve how policing is done in our community, in a time when people are calling for reform and demanding we address racial and social injustices," Turner said at a press conference Wednesday.

The document includes 104 reforms divided into 6 categories: community policing, independent oversight, power dynamics, crisis intervention, field readiness, and "clear expectations."

The report calls for expanding cadet training by three weeks, so each recruit can be paired with a community organization in Houston for a three-week "externship." It also recommends assigning individual HPD officers to neighborhoods on a long-term basis, so the community can get to know them and feel more comfortable around them.

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The report also calls for a requiring HPD officers to provide statements at the beginning of an investigation in which they were accused of wrongdoing. Right now, HPD officers can wait until a disciplinary investigation is complete, then read the entire file on the investigation, before making an on-the-record comment.

The task force advocated for HPD officers to share all body-worn camera footage with prosecutors within 24 hours of the department being notified of the investigation. It also called for published internal disciplinary reports to hold officers accountable amongst themselves.

To deal with mental health crises, the report recommends expanding HPD's partnership with the Harris Health Center to use clinicians and mental health professionals, to provide more health counselors on call 24/7, in addition to increasing the amount of mobile outreach crisis teams the center provides in response to active situations on scene.

While Turner said he would likely agree to certain reforms — including reforms to the oversight board — he did not yet commit to adopting any of the recommendations, saying he had not yet had time to review them all.

Turner emphasized on Wednesday that future reforms to the department would include training and additional resources to address social services that are not traditionally expected of officers."That’s been the problem that we face," Turner said. "Asking police, for example, to do way more than what they should be asked to do. So it’s all of us."

That's a concern that has been echoed by some in the police department.

“It’s probably not one of the favorite training aspects, it’s not necessarily what people join the job for," Bryan Bennett, Commander for HPD’s Mental Health Division, told Houston Public Media earlier this month. "But it’s absolutely an important part of the job.”

HPD answered more than 40,000 mental health calls last year, Bennett added.

​The 45-person reform task force is made up of members of civil rights groups, business and faith leaders, educators and some activists.

While Turner has pushed for more, better-funded police on the streets, others have criticized his approach to law enforcement policy — agreeing that police are too under-resourced to handle many social service issues, but looking instead to decrease police funding and instead allocate it to funding those services.

In June, during an hours-long city council public hearing, dozens of people provided public comment asking to divert that money instead to other resources.

“One riot gear load can buy 55 frontline care workers full PPE,” speaker Gillian Mellor said at the time. “So while I do think that infrastructure investment in HPD is important, I think that there are a lot of ways that we can reduce the funding that is going towards them in harmful ways.”

Calls to defund the police ultimately went nowhere, however, as the city passed its $5.1 billion budget with a $20 million increase for HPD in Fiscal Year 2021, bringing the department's total budget to $964 million.

There is no timeline for how many reforms Turner will select from the recommendations, or when they may be implemented. The mayor and city council members are now in the process of reviewing the documents.

The task force's chairman, Larry Payne, said ultimately the recommendations were about recognizing the humanity in people — invoking the name of George Floyd in the process.

"What made it so easy to do what was done to George Floyd, is in an instant George Floyd was not a human being," Payne said. "And when you dehumanize someone, and you take away their humanity and you make them less than human, you're able to do what you saw on that video with such carelessness.”