By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A task force in Houston which was appointed during this summer’s nationwide protests over racial injustice on Wednesday released more than 100 recommendations on how to improve the city’s police department.
The recommendations come as the Houston police department has faced scrutiny over a 2019 deadly drug raid that resulted in the death of a couple and the indictments of six now former officers and the termination earlier this month of four other officers for firing their weapons 21 times at a man who had been experiencing a mental health crisis, killing him in April.
“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,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The recommendations are grouped into six main categories that cover community policing, independent oversight, power dynamics between police and residents, crisis intervention, field readiness of officers and setting clear expectations for what is expected from officers.
“We look forward to receiving the task force recommendations and thank the task force members for their thoughtful input,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement.
The 45-member policing reform task force was appointed in June during local and nationwide protests in the summer following the killing of George Floyd, who grew up in Houston. The black man died in May after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground.
“Change comes from the push of the people and the people pushed us to have this moment,” said Carla Brailey, one of the task force members.
One of the specific recommendations from the task force is the overhaul of the city’s Independent Police Oversight Board.
The oversight board has been criticized as being ineffective because it doesn’t have subpoena power to conduct its own investigations, it only reviews investigations completed by the Houston police department’s internal affairs division, it can’t accept complaints from residents and it can’t publicly comment about its work or the cases it reviews.
The task force is also recommending that police body camera footage be publicly released in a consistent and timely manner. Acevedo has been criticized by community activists and leaders over what they see as long delays in releasing body camera footage after deadly police shootings. That criticism intensified earlier this year when Houston police officers were involved in six fatal shootings over several weeks in April and May.
Other task force recommendations include preparing an annual report detailing disciplinary action taken against police officers and banning no-knock warrants for non-violent offenses. A no-knock warrant was used in the January 2019 drug raid that resulted in the deaths of Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his 58-year-old wife, Rhogena Nicholas. After the raid, Acevedo changed department policy to allow such warrants only with approval from high level department officials and a district court judge.
“We need Mayor Turner, Chief Acevedo, and members of City Council to act immediately and introduce ordinances based on the recommendations,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said in a statement
Turner said even before the task force came back with its recommendations, he signed executive orders to address police reform. One order signed in June bans Houston police from using chokeholds and requires officers to exhaust all alternatives before using deadly force. Another order signed earlier this week lets officers issue citations instead of arresting people for certain misdemeanors.
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