HPOU takes on city immigration policy

July 2, 2009 5:41:08 PM PDT
There's a call for a change in policy at the Houston Police Department. Right now, officers are not allowed to ask a person's immigration status. The Houston Police Officers' Union wants that to change. This follows the shooting death of Officer Henry Canales. Prosecutors say he was shot and killed by a man who was in the country illegally.

The murder of HPD Officer Rodney Johnson three years ago at the hands of a man who'd already been deported and was back in this country illegally sparked a fiery national debate over our country's immigration policies.

Three years later, the fatal shooting of Officer Canales, also by someone who was here illegally, has the Houston Police Officer's Union fighting mad and renewing its call for action.

"I would hope at some point and time, the mayor would get tired of going to funerals for police officers and step up to the plate here and be a little bit more on action than words," said HPOU President Gary Blankinship.

In a letter addressed to Houston Mayor Bill White and city council, Blankinship implored him to let Chief Harold Hurtt do away with what he calls an outdated policy that prevents police officers with probable cause from checking a person's legal status.

"In the last three years, you've had two of your police officers killed in the line of duty at the hands of criminal undocumented immigrants," we said to Chief Hurtt during a news conference on Thursday. "Why aren't you in the mayor's face telling him to change the policy?"

"Well, the mayor is in the process of preparing a statement that's going to address that issue, if he has not already done so," said Chief Hurtt.

Late Thursday afternoon, Mayor White responded to Blankinship's letter at a news conference where he stood his ground. White says while he shares the union's frustration, he maintains his hands are tied.

"We don't have the legal authority to deport people," said Mayor White. "We can't deport people. That is not the job. We don't have the power to enforce federal, civil law."

The Houston Police Officer Union is also asking city council to authorize spending for four more academy classes and to increase the amount of overtime money. Mayor White says he's seeking funding for both.

Below is the letter sent by the Houston Police Officers Union

The Honorable Bill White

P.O. Box 1562

Houston, Texas 77251

Dear Mayor White:

The senseless death of Officer Henry Canales reminds all of us of just how dangerous HPD officers' careers can be. Officer Canales is the sixth HPD officer to die in the line of duty during your tenure as our mayor. During this same five-year period, our department has decreased in size from 5,182 total police officers to 5,167 police officers. This represents a net loss of 15 fewer officers at HPD than we had back in 2004. The magnitude of our current understaffed position is underscored by Chief Hurtt's own declaration (as recent as June 24, 2009) that HPD needs 6,400 police officers today. Obviously, the reality of our lack of true growth tells a much different story than the one you like to portray as it relates to hiring 1,300-plus officers during your term.

Unfortunately, the demands for HPD emergency services have not slowed down and fewer officers are required to do more and more each year. Related to this, HPD officers are all too aware that we have serious officer safety issues related to unsafe one-officer units who are required to respond to dangerous situations with very little or no back-up. When you add to that the population density of Houston has increased significantly, any objective person can see that our department simply cannot stop hiring police officers; nor can it afford to embrace the extremely ill-advised overtime budget cuts authorized by Mayor White and approved by Houston City Council.

Mayor, the bottom line is the two academy classes scheduled for to commence close to the conclusion of the FY 2010 budget year will not even keep up with the attrition level of the department during the same budget cycle. This means that we will have even fewer police officers working at HPD than we did when you were sworn in as mayor of our city in 2004.

Additionally, as it relates to the on-going problems HPD officers have related to illegal aliens who commit crimes in our community, the magnitude of the problem keeps increasing. As most people know, the suspect who shot and killed Officer Canales was living in the United States of America illegally. As unbelievable as it sounds, the suspect possessed a valid Texas drivers license issued by the state of Texas. Sadly, another one of the suspects arrested fleeing the scene of Officer Canales' slaying also possessed a valid Texas drivers license.

The federal government has failed miserably and our governor has not helped law enforcement by enabling citizens in our country illegally to have valid state-issued identification. Combine that with HPD's outdated policy of preventing police officers from questioning suspects (where probable cause exists) related to criminal activity if the person is in the United States legally.

The trifecta failure of our national, state, and local governments to protect citizens and police officers from continuing to be victimized by criminals who are in the United States illegally must be stopped.

We are not so naive to believe that years of failed policies can be corrected overnight---especially since the issue of dealing with illegal alien criminals within our current system is so complex. Excuses can't be tolerated another day and must be addressed in a reasonable, yet firm, way.

That said, the Houston Police Officers' Union calls on Mayor White and our city council to order Chief Hurtt to drop the Houston Police Department's outdated policy that does not allow police officers to make inquiries, with probable cause, into a person's legal status in the United States of America. Furthermore, for the safety of our citizens and our members who are required to do a very dangerous job, with little or no back-up, we call on the mayor and city council to meet in emergency session and authorize spending for four more HPD academy training classes during the FY 2010 fiscal year and increase overtime to the authorized amount for FY2009.

Our department and its loyal and dedicated police officers need help, not reasons, why it can't be done. There is not a more important priority for our city.

Sincerely,

Gary Blankinship

President

cc: Houston City Council

Houston Police Officers' Union Board of Directors

Harris County Legislative Delegation

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