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Mayor Turner Announces Task Force To Review Houston Police Practices

In his announcement, Turner said his “Task Force on Policing Reform” consisted of “members who represent a cross-section of our very diverse community.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner unveils his new “Task Force On Policing Reform” at a June 24, 2020 press conference.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday announced a 45-member task force to review Houston Police Department practices, weeks after local and nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans killed by police.

The group, chaired by Laurence “Larry” Payne of the Houston Public Library, also includes business and community leaders, activists, and faith leaders.

Among them are representatives from NAACP Houston, the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston Area Women’s Center, Crime Stoppers, social justice group Texas Appleseed, and others.

The task force also includes Trae tha Truth, Houston rapper and former friend of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25. The rapper, whose real name is Frazier Thompson III, helped organize a march for Floyd that drew an estimated tens of thousands of people to downtown Houston earlier this month.

In his announcement, Turner said his “Task Force on Policing Reform” consisted of “members who represent a cross-section of our very diverse community,” and he addressed any potential critics of the plan. 

“People in our city want good policing and they want accountability and transparency within the Houston Police Department,” Turner said at a Wednesday press conference. “Some have argued that we do not need another study or commission or task force, but let me just say, we must have a thoughtful process driven by the community to enact meaningful and lasting change, which would be in everyone’s best interest.”

One of those critics was Ashton P. Woods, the head of Black Lives Matter Houston, who on Wednesday took to Twitter to blast the mayor.

“As I thought, THIS taskforce is full of people WHO ALREADY HAD POWER to change things. Besides a couple of people who do real work, I have ZERO faith that things will change. Another empty gesture,” he tweeted.

Woods, who followed up with a more inflammatory tweet directed at the mayor, also said Turner “excluded a lot of great activists” in choosing the task force.

The mayor’s announcement came exactly two weeks after City Council passed a $5.1 billion budget that included a roughly $20 million increase in police funding, prompting criticism from protesters and activists who have called for a funding decrease. 

But Turner has consistently stressed a need for more policing in Houston, in response to what he says is community demand.

“We have been working feverishly to increase that number, and it’s been the general public, the people in your districts, the people who you represent who ask for more police in their districts,” Turner said to council members during the June 10 meeting.

The mayor said he doesn’t intend to play an outsized role in the process, but will be giving a number of charges for the group to consider.

According to the mayor’s office, Turner’s task force will: 

  • Review HPD policies and practices relating to the use of force.
  • Review the operation of the city’s Independent Police Oversight Board and its effectiveness, and recommend what changes, if any, should be made.
  • Review the use of body cameras, and assess criteria for when video footage should or should not be released to the general public.
  • Research a best practices model for crisis diversion, for things like substance abuse, mental and behavioral health issues, and homelessness, while evaluating the HPD Crisis Intervention Team.
  • Assess how well HPD is doing with community policing and what more should be done to build the bond between police and community.
  • Recommend policies to decrease the “overt” presence of law enforcement without adversely affecting safety.

The task force can also make additional recommendations, Turner said. The group will submit a report on or before Sep. 30, but Turner said he hoped for recommendations within 60 days.

Payne, who is also a former congressional staffer and worked under Mayor Kathy Whitmire, said the group would be addressing “the past, the present and the future” of policing.

“How we respond is the issue,” he said. “History will judge us on that. The present will be the beneficiaries, and future generations will thank us.”

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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