Criminal Justice

In Mayor Turner’s Police Reform, Houston Works To Correct Police Oversight Shortcomings

Houston’s police oversight system fared poorly in comparison to other cities in a 2020 report by the Kinder Institute.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Last Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the implementation of several recommendations made by the city’s police reform task force.

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One of the police reforms Houston is implementing could position it in line with other Texas cities with strong independent police oversight.

Last week, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the implementation of several recommendations by the city's Task Force on Policing Reform.

It comes seven months after the task force issued its recommendations and about six months after a report by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research concluded Houston's Independent Police Oversight Board was among the weakest in Texas.

One big difference between Houston's oversight board and those of Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin has been that Houston's consists of volunteers only.

Mayor Turner's new executive order changes that. It creates a board of 21 volunteers supported by a full-time investigative staff headed by a deputy inspector general, called the Office of Policing Reform and Accountability.

"To me this is looking more like Austin or Dallas' model, that they have both an inspector general, who is effectively a lawyer, a full-time employee who's conducting or leading investigations, and the staff to assist with the IPOB and public outreach," said Steve Sherman, who co-authored the Kinder Institute report.

But the devil is in the details, he said.

While the board now has a broader mandate, including the issuing of policy recommendations, they are limited to administrative policy, such as hiring and firing, Sherman said, and not actual policing strategies.

Sherman said he is not ready to change his assessment of Houston's police oversight system until he sees it in practice.

"I have lots of questions about who (the Office of Policing Reform and Accountability) is going to report to, its permanence, if it's just reporting to the mayor," he said. "Let's say the next mayor is not incredibly interested in police reform, which could happen, will the office still be able to act independently?"

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