Q&A: Houston Police Department vs. District Attorney's Office over database access

By Phil Archer - Reporter

HOUSTON - For months, the relationship between the Houston Police Union and District Attorney Kim Ogg has been frosty. 

The union has been openly critical of the DA’s handling of criminal bonds and other issues. All of that seems to have come to a head in the last few days with union leaders now contending that the DA is endangering public safety by trying to retaliate against them.

Police union leaders say it began Friday when they sat down with the DA to try to work out their differences. Union president Joe Gamaldi said it didn’t go well.

“You know, we did have a meeting with the DA's office and to say it was contentious would be an understatement,” Gamaldi said

Then, three days later, 5,200 Houston officers found they were locked out of what’s called the Consolidated Criminal History Database. 

It’s a electronic tool that provides police with information about suspects, their criminal histories, crime victims and other data to aid criminal investigation. 

When HPD officers tried to sign into the system on Monday, they found an error message that informed them the system was down for maintenance. 

“This will also give HCDAO (Harris County District Attorney’s Office) time to review and update our MOU (Memo of Understanding) to share this information with HPD,” Gamaldi said.

Then union officials said they then discovered other police agencies weren't shut out of the system. 

“No one else in law enforcement in Harris County has been locked out of this system with the exception of the Houston Police Department. That’s kind of a coincidence to me,” Gamaldi said.

KPRC 2 asked for an interview with District Attorney Ogg, but our interview request was turned down. 

The District Attorney’s director of communications sent an email saying: 

“This is an intra-agency matter regarding the security of information and technology. It is a matter to be addressed by the leadership of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Houston Police Department.”

After we inquired about the shutdown, HPD officers found the error message on the network had been changed to exclude any reference to the Houston Police Department. 

“I never thought in a million years this office would play politics over public safety but here we sit, with our officers denied to a system that is extremely important to investigating these public crimes and they just took it away on a whim,” Gamaldi said.

Gamaldi said the inability to use the database will impact public safety. 

He said the information is available from other sources, but will impede he investigation process by stretching information searches that would only take minutes to complete with the CCH database to hours.

The system was resolved for its users Thursday, officials said. 

The Harris County District Attorney's Office released the following statement Thursday evening:

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Houston Police have agreed to strengthen security for a computerized information-sharing system.

A new protocol was signed today by District Attorney Kim Ogg and Police Chief Art Acevedo.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Harris County Constable Precinct 4 Office are the only other agencies with access to the system, a tool designed for prosecutors and shared only by agreement. 

The system, Consolidated Criminal History, enables prosecutors and investigators from each agency to access the information from the others’ investigative reports and related material. 

Information from HPD investigative reports are to soon be accessible to the participating agencies, according to the agreement.

The new protocol will also help eliminate delays in criminal cases caused by problems with timely sharing of information. It will now be possible to move cases more rapidly through the system.

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