HOUSTON – The voices calling for transparency and independent police oversight grew louder following several recent officer-involved shootings and the death of George Floyd. Houston has a long-established independent police oversight board, but critics question whether the board is given enough authority.
“I don’t believe law enforcement can police itself,” said Dr. James Douglas, president of the NAACP Houston.
Douglas pushed the city for years to create this board, which was established under Mayor Annise Parker.
“I called it a toothless tiger. It’s structural only, it’s a facade,” said Douglas. “If you don’t have subpoena power, if you can’t put people under oath, then you can’t investigate.”
Douglas argues the board is not truly independent because it can’t initiate investigations on its own, can’t subpoena records, and isn’t required to share its findings with the public.
“Pretty much rely on the goodwill of the police department to turn over documentation to them,” said defense attorney and past oversight board member Phil Hilder.
Hilder praises the work of the 21-member volunteer board but recommended giving the board more authority before stepping down.
“It needs to be able to have the ability to have an independent investigation,” said Hilder. “The structure and the bones are there for the oversight board but it needs to be built upon.”