Now comes the hard part; Houston PD faces calls for reform

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In some ways, handling 60,000 marchers on the streets of Houston may have been the easy part.

"We're built for this," Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner told ABC13 Tuesday night. "We're going to protect our city. If they want to walk all night, we will walk with them."

Earlier in the day, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo was in the march, on the streets of Houston right next to the people he polices.

For hours Chief Acevedo ignored now months-long calls for social distancing as he high-fived, hugged, prayed and shouted George Floyd's name next to thousands of protesters.

He appeared to ignore the occasional curse word thrown his way as the crowd marched towards Houston City Hall.

HPD made more than 200, mostly misdemeanor, arrests after Tuesday's rally. There was little damage and no serious injuries as the sun rose Wednesday, but now comes the hard part.

With his voice understandably hoarse the morning after the march, Acevedo was asked on ABC's Good Morning America, about police reform. "The people of this community that's hurting that want change, we will offer that change," Acevedo told George Stephanopoulos.

RELATED: HPD Chief Acevedo responds to Pres. Trump's threats to send soldiers to cities

The question echoed the concerns of many marchers.

Houston civil rights icon Rev. Bill Lawson said, "This must not be a parade that ends and we all go home. We must make sure something is done on Wednesday and Thursday and next week and the week following that."

ABC13's Ted Oberg asked Acevedo that very question along the march route: "What can you do to make sure this doesn't end with a march on a Tuesday?"

"Let me tell you something," Acevedo explained as he marched. "I've been talking to police chiefs across the country. We are tired of the inaction in Congress."

Acevedo continued, saying he and other chiefs will hold Washington, D.C. politicians accountable for their votes on planned reform measures.

Oberg pressed the police chief asking, "Some of (the changes are) stuff you can do on your own at home without needing Congress?"

"I've done a lot of stuff on my own," Acevedo explained, "What I do when it comes to a use of force incident, we take care of business."

Acevedo suggests reforms should include ways to rid departments of bad cops and points to his action in the wake of the Harding Streets raids as proof of his stance.

LINK: Grand jury indicts ex-HPD officers involved in botched raid

In a letter Monday from the Major City (Police) Chiefs Association, which Acevedo heads, the association said, "Contracts and labor laws hamstring efforts to swiftly rid departments of problematic behavior and as law enforcement executives, we call for a review of those contracts and laws."

More immediately, Acevedo has been pressed to release body camera video in any of the ten Houston police officer involved shootings since April. Six of those shootings were fatal. All remain under investigation.

Releasing videos in the midst of an investigation and before trial could risk a Harris County trial Acevedo has said repeatedly. His answer includes a frequent reminder that Harris County is among the most diverse in the nation and Houstonians deserve to have any trial of an officer here in Houston.

However, few officers are ever charged and in those instances video does not have to be released either. State law allows, but does not mandate, video in cases without charges to remain secret forever.

On Wednesday morning, the chief told NBC's Today show he favored a national standard on the release of body camera video.

"We have to have a national standard, and we have to have a conversation, because as we explain to folks why we don't want to in certain circumstances, they start processing, they understand it," Acevedo told host Hoda Kotb, "What we need moving forward is a national approach to the critical policies in law enforcement. You cannot have 18,000 sets of policies... we need some national standards laying out the processes."

It is a change from his stance just days ago. Last Friday, hours before the first protest in Houston, Oberg asked Acevedo, "Is it time to show Houstonians more of how you come to your conclusions?"

"Absolutely," Acevedo replied. "I've talked to the DA about that today and we're going to come up with a plan here because I think transparency breeds trust."

The chief was scheduled to meet with District Attorney Kim Ogg to discuss a plan to change HPD video release policy on Monday. Those meetings have been postponed due to the protests and upcoming funeral for George Floyd in Houston. There is no date yet for a rescheduled session.
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