Should HPD change use of deadly force?

February 24, 2010 4:08:37 PM PST
There were two dozen police shootings in Houston last year and half of them were deadly. Now there's a renewed outcry for the Houston Police Department to change its use of deadly force. Faced with an increase in the number of police shootings last year in the city of Houston, the public safety committee gathered Wednesday to get some answers.

"I would welcome a discussion on what we think ought to occur," said Houston City Council Member Melissa Noriega.

They asked interim HPD Chief Charles McClelland to explain why last year some 29 Houstonians were shot by police officers.

"Deadly force incidents are the most scrutinized incidents that are investigated by the Houston Police Department," said acting Chief McClelland.

The committee took up the issue after several civil rights groups raised the red flag last month, demanding the mayor and city council to address the numbers, and calling into question whether HPD policies need to be changed or at least be reviewed.

"As long as politicians just keep on talking and talking, they're not doing," said Randall Kallinen of the Houston Coalition of Justice.

The coalition is also calling for more transparency regarding the investigations such as releasing autopsy results to the public more readily. They're calling on a new citizens review panel which would be made up of members of civil rights groups and would have subpoena power to call witnesses.

"That is the power to ask people for documents. To say to the police department, 'We need the autopsy report. We need the photographs,'" Kallinen said.

The Houston Police Officers Union says the public should be interested in the number of shootings, but should not rely on just on that. They point to that fact that out of the total number of shootings last year, all but one of the suspects was armed.

As for more oversight, the union says there's plenty already.

"There already is citizen oversight. It's called a grand jury where citizens are in panel and they have subpoena power and they're independently used in police departments," said Mark Clark of the Houston Police Officers Union. "In the 30-plus years I've been a police officer here, I've not seen any reluctance of them to investigation these cases thoroughly."

The union also points out that there was a spike last year in the number of officers assaulted by the citizenry.