Police Shortage Prompts Probe Into Suspended Cases

Houston Mayor John Whitmire
Houston Mayor John Whitmire | Image by John Whitmire for Houston Mayor

The City of Houston has announced the members of its independent review committee who will be responsible for investigating and assessing the Houston Police Department’s handling and resolution of 264,000 suspended incident reports dating back to 2016.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire announced he would appoint an independent panel to review the department’s handling of the suspended cases earlier this month, according to a press release. The incident reports were assigned an internal code citing a lack of personnel.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner previously attributed the issue at his department to staffing shortages, as reported by The Dallas Express.

“Regardless of staffing challenges, this should have never happened and will not continue,” Finner said in a February statement. “All victims and their families are important to me and deserve to be treated as such.”

The Dallas Police Department has been struggling with a staffing shortage of its own, which has led to sky-high police response times, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. The department only fields around 3,000 officers despite a City analysis advising that approximately 4,000 would be necessary to reduce police response times and properly maintain public safety in a city the size of Dallas.

Budgeting only $654 million for the department this year, the Dallas City Council chose to spend considerably less taxpayer money on law enforcement than other high-crime jurisdictions, like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

“Criminal justice is a system. Any component of it that is broken affects the entire system. And we have discovered a terribly broken component in our local criminal justice system,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire named and introduced the members of the committee. City Council Member Ellen Cohen, a Democrat and former mayor pro tem, will chair the committee. Other members include Capt. Jeff Owles, a Texas Ranger with two decades of police experience; Christina Nowak, the deputy inspector general of Houston’s Office of Policing Reform and Accountability; City Attorney Arturo Michel; and Rev. Leon Preston, a pastor at Yale Street Baptist.

“I want the panel to find out how in the world this existed for eight years without someone having the good sense of sounding the alarm,” Whitmire said. “You can never, never, never not investigate an allegation, an incident report, because of lack of staffing. That’s when you go and tell your superiors, you tell your coworkers, you for sure tell the public, the union, you tell the mayor. ‘Mayor, we just don’t have the resources to investigate these incidents.’ You can never code it that it’s not followed up on because of lack of staffing.”

The mayor further explained the committee’s purpose while fielding questions from the press.

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is a data collection, a revealing of the information that the public is entitled to,” Whitmire said. “It’s also to validate what HPD is doing and the report that they give. We want another set of eyes of experienced individuals to say, ‘Yes, they did it right. Yes, they are giving you accurate information. Yes, they are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.'”

The first meeting of the committee was on March 20.

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