Chief admits HPD mistakes, says community relationships will keep city safe in 'watershed moment'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Barricades surround the Houston Police Department in downtown. Dozens of uniformed officers surround the building on all sides as they have since Friday night when protests over the death of George Floyd chaotically spread across downtown.

Inside HPD though, Chief Art Acevedo, the man in charge of the police response to Tuesday's expected massive protest march, is projecting calm.

"This is a defining moment for our city and for our nation," Acevedo told ABC13's Ted Oberg between planning meetings. "I challenge the people of Houston, let's show the world what this city is about. Houston strong."

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Acevedo spent much of this weekend in the midst of protests. Friday night and into Saturday morning, the chief was on the streets of downtown with his officers. Reflecting on that first night of Houston protests, Acevedo told Oberg, "I thank God. You see the restraint that our men and women have shown here. Young men and women in their early 20s. They're scared when people are throwing stuff, but you've seen them hold the line. You've seen them act with courage."

Saturday, the chief marched for three hours with Houstonians from Floyd's former neighborhood into the city center. Then on Sunday, he spoke emotionally about the toll of watching Floyd's videotaped death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

"Where is the anger coming from," Acevedo rhetorically asked the Sunday crowd. "Every black mother, brother, sister, uncle, cousin, they saw their family in George's face!"

Acevedo is keenly aware policing, and specifically Houston police, who have a tricky relationship with minority communities.

"We're an imperfect department. We have screw ups like every other department. We have some egregious things that happen here, but we don't tolerate it. And I think that's the difference (and) our community knows that... We can never be successful unless we police with the consent of the people. And what this nation is seeing right now, is that (if) we don't conduct ourselves in a way where we earn that consent, chaos will ensue. I think this is a watershed moment in this city."

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Acevedo expects a "large crowd" Tuesday afternoon. City estimates suggest if could be upwards of 15,000 marchers. He plans to be in the march as well alongside his senior commanders.

Acevedo told ABC13 he is counting on Houstonians to spot potential bad actors. He's seen it before.

"I have been marching now for several days with our community and we've had people come in trying to agitate and I didn't have to do a thing because it was young African-American men and women that actually help control the crowd and that just, it's a beautiful thing to watch," he said.

Acevedo is not leaving it entirely up to the crowd. HPD remains on a heightened state of alert. All 5,000 officers are working 12-hour shifts. There has been a heavy police presence at every protest march. Tuesday, it is expected to be augmented with state and federal resources as well.
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