Some police reforms in place, but major changes elusive at HPD

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For Houstonians who watched the Derek Chauvin verdict on Tuesday, many are wondering what happens next closer to home as the nation's fourth largest city continues to tackle the question of what it means to have meaningful police reform.

"I'd like to see more expedient things happen," said Cesar Espinoza, an immigrant rights activist and one of 40 plus Houstonians named to Mayor Sylvester Turner's Police Reform Task Force last year. "Recommendations have (already) been made as to how we can police relationships with the community, but unfortunately we have not seen real changes in the city of Houston."

"All of us are working to bring down the number of crimes being committed, in the city of Houston," said Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was quick to point out that a number of police reforms were instituted last year, though some of the recommended solutions by the task force will take longer.

"Some of those things will take a little longer to implement, some of those things, will be based on resources we have to work with," said Turner.

Turner points out that he signed executive orders banning chokeholds shortly after George Floyd's death last summer. Since then, the city of Houston has implemented a "Safe Harbor" court for those who can not pay city fines. There is now a cite and release program for minor offenses, and a data dashboard on police statistics is underway.

SEE ALSO: Mayor Turner to sign executive order banning use of chokeholds in Houston

However, a number of reforms recommended by the task force remain unfinished. As ABC13 first reported last fall, the changes include:

Improve and increase community engagement: This includes reaching out to underserved communities at every level of the police department. The committee is recommending that case training, as well as officer promotion, take community involvement into account.

Overhaul the current Independent Police Oversight Board (IPOB): The task force recommends a hybrid model that will have a full-time, paid administrative and investigative staff, as well as a civilian board.

Timely release of bodycam videos: A consistent and clear policy by HPD on release of body-worn camera footage of officer-involved shootings, including timelines. This also includes committing to transparency by releasing data and community survey results on a regular basis.

Expand community partnerships: HPD already has relationships with mental health professionals and social services organizations, but they want to optimize that opportunity. Taskforce members want to see those roles expanded to lighten the load on officers when responding to vulnerable populations.

Equip and prepare officers through more training and resources: This includes initiatives like reviewing and updating officer training, expanding mental health and wellness programs for officers, and instituting a mentorship program are all recommended.

Set clear expectations for officers then support them: Task force recommends up to three weeks of engagement training for all new officers. Also, requiring officers to make at least two contacts with people or businesses during each shift.

You can read the entire report on the city of Houston's police report.

Mayor Turner says he will release a set of major reforms next week.

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