HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the implementation of key recommendations submitted by the Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform in a press conference Thursday.
The mayor addressed several aspects of police reform being implemented in the community in accordance with the 104 recommendations made by the task force. Turner said more than 50% of the recommendations are being implemented, including changes to the release of bodycam footage, police complaints and crisis intervention.
Release of bodycam footage
According to Turner, the task force recommended that there be a “balance of power dynamics between the Houston Police Department and Houstonians by releasing body-worn camera footage of critical incidents in a consistent and timely manner.”
Turner said the city will adhere to those recommendations. Houston police Chief Troy Finner agreed with the adherence to the recommendation, saying there cannot be a talk of transparency without action.
Finner said now that Turner has given the marching orders, bodycam footage of officer-involved shootings that result in injury or death will be released within 30 days of the incident in question, effective immediately.
“There is a lot that goes in (with the release of a video),” Finner said. “I don’t want to release something prematurely, where we don’t have all of the angles ... We have to go through redactions, by law. And there are some incidents, by law, that we can’t release ... so just understand those challenges.”
However, Finner said despite those challenges, “we’re releasing it when we can legally release it.”
According to Finner, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is in agreement with the decision.
Filing police complaints
Turner also said the city will launch a new website that is expected to go live at the end of May that will make it easier for people to file a complaint and access data about policing in Houston.
- People will be able to access a complaint form where they can upload complaints along with images and videos.
- Complaints can be filed anonymously and easily by answering yes or no questions.
- There will be five information dashboards where people can see police interactions with the community as well as HPD disciplinary actions and workforce diversity.
- Information dashboards will be color-blind friendly and will be “click-anywhere,” meaning people can click on any part of the information and the website will automatically filter the data.
- Information can be filtered by date, race, gender and more.
Mental health crisis
Turner said the task force recommended that the city expand existing partnerships between the Police Department, mental health professionals and other similar organizations to “lighten the load on officers when responding to vulnerable populations such as those experiencing a mental behavioral health crisis, domestic violence, human trafficking, homelessness, substance abuse and others.”
The mayor agreed with the recommendation saying the city’s police officers are asked to do “way too much,” putting them in situations where the outcome is not always positive.
Turner gave a breakdown of all the new steps being taken that will include spending about $25 million over the next three years to hire additional counselors to annually expand the crisis case diversion. Turner also said the money will be spent to hire more mobile crisis outreach teams, crisis intervention response teams, and to provide telehealth technology for crisis-intervention trained officers. The telehealth addition will allow officers who come upon a situation where intervention is needed, to have a clinician who can help on hand.
Watch the full news conference below: