HOUSTON --A big change for the Houston Police Department as the top cop is stepping down. Police Chief Harold Hurtt is retiring, making the announcement just days after voters elected a new mayor. And mayor elect Annise Parker has made it clear she wants changes at HPD. While the announcement came as no surprise, perhaps the timing did. Many did not expect him to leave so soon. Chief Hurtt told us he was ready for a new challenge and was not forced out, though if he had stayed longer, he may have been. It probably wasn't how the Houston Police Officer's Union billed their yearly holiday party. Instead of a night of socializing and small talk, officers, prosecutors and city leaders filled the union hall discussing the big news from Chief Hurtt. "I told them I was leaving the department December 30," said Chief Hurtt. That was in a 3pm meeting Tuesday with his command staff. Three and a half hours later he was in a room full of people, most notably Mayor-elect Parker, who's been clear she wants a new chief. "It's not so much about Chief Hurtt. It's about wanting a chief who wants to go in a different direction," said Parker. Chief Hurtt has been clear too, telling reporters he came to work for Mayor Bill White. In his six years in Houston, he introduced Tasers and red light cameras, focused on getting more officers on the street and unveiled a new property room after embarrassing thefts and missing evidence. However, he also inherited a crime lab rife with problems, was outspoken on identifying illegal immigrants in his jails and constantly fought budget issues. "There's only so much you can do when you run out of money," said Chief Hurtt. Mayor elect Parker does not yet have a replacement or even a short list she says. One of two executive assistant chiefs could step in in the interim. "That's an honor I haven't been visited about," said Exec. Asst. Chief Vickie King. Parker says she'd like to hire from within. She also hopes to talk to Chief Hurtt before his last day, although she left before speaking with him Tuesday night. "I'm sure we'll have a difficult meeting, but we're both adults and both professionals. I'm not worried about that," said Parker. After 41 years in law enforcement, almost 20 as a police chief in different cities, Chief Hurtt indicated he was willing to move into the private sector although he would not elaborate. Mayor elect Parker said she wants decentralized policing and better cooperation with other law enforcement agencies in the area.
December 16, 2009 4:25:18 AM PST