HOUSTON, Texas -- With heightened attention on police use of force since the death of Houstonian George Floyd and subsequent protests, purchases for the Houston Police Department have come under greater scrutiny from council members.
A $166,000 grant application for helmets and face shields was met with questions from Council Members Tiffany Thomas and Letitia Plummer when it was taken up for consideration July 29 after getting pulled from a previous agenda.
Police equipment purchases only make up 10% of the department's fiscal year 2020-21 budget; they are often supplemented by grant applications, which are often approved by council votes.
Thomas said she supported the purchase but wanted to know more about when the equipment would and would not be deployed.
At-Large Council Member Mike Knox, a former police officer, responded to Thomas' remarks by saying that the equipment was necessary protection, particularly during protests.
"They're to protect against a little virus known as frozen, plastic water bottles," Knox said, referring to anecdotes of assaults on police officers during protests.
Houston's recent demonstrations remained largely peaceful, with 654 participants arrested out of an estimated 60,000 participants. Harris County Attorney Kim Ogg later dropped charges of nonviolent trespassing and obstruction of roadway but upheld a remaining 54 charges filed against 51 of the protesters.
All council members except for Plummer voted in favor of the application.
Plummer, who has been outspoken on police reform, said she found Knox's comment offensive.
"Directing this to protests only is what really alarms our public. It's dangerous for council members to make comments that create more fear," Plummer said. "I feel like it's just irresponsible to bring fear back into conversations about these protests."
Other council members voiced support for the equipment for use in responding to active shooter events and other unpredictable circumstances.
"The use is not aimed at any one group. We have events taking place every single day," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "We have them so that our officers can go home to their families safely at the end of the day."