Who came up with HPD's 'SL' code that suspended 264K cases? Panel identifies former assistant chief

Lileana Pearson Image
Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Who came up with HPD's case-suspension code? Ex-assistant chief named
Mayor John Whitmire's independent panel looking into HPD's code that suspended 264,000 cases cites a former assistant chief with coining the coding.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- ABC13 has learned Donald McKinney, a former Houston Police Department assistant chief, approved the use of the controversial SL code in 2016 before he retired later that year. Since then, it's been used to suspend a quarter-million cases, impacting thousands of victims.

A report by Mayor John Whitmire's independent panel reviewing HPD's investigation of the suspended incident reports is rife with police higher-ups' names, but Whitmire said this is not a leadership issue.

After six weeks of work, the mayor's panel said the last decade of HPD case management has been a mess.

"We have observed inconsistent methods of case management between the divisions with very little checks and balances," Whitmire said.

Panel member Christina Nowak said, "A new timeline of events provided by the panel shows the code's decade-long introduction and evolution."

SEE MORE: 13 Investigates what's happened since HPD's 'suspended' code was identified as an issue a decade ago

The start of the code is credited to an October 2014 presentation where HPD understaffing concerns were raised.

Then, a team was assembled in 2015 when new codes, including the controversial SL code, were invented. By 2016, Assistant Chief McKinney had approved and implemented the plan.

In 2018, a review of backlogged suspended reports determined the SL code would no longer be used in the Crimes Against Children Division.

The report presents the July 20, 2018, email that ultimately caused former Chief Troy Finner to retire. It is an email about a "failure to stop" report suspended because of a lack of personnel, tying Finner to the scandal for the first time.

On July 28, 2021, an unnamed sergeant wrote to then-Executive Chief Matt Slinkard about concerns regarding the existence of the SL code.

Finner said he told the team to stop using the code department-wide at an executive staff meeting on Nov. 4, 2021.

SEE MORE: 13 Investigates gets first look at how, why HPD's suspended code began

After that meeting, Assistant Chief James Jones sent a message asking former Deputy Director of Data Governance Diana Pour if the entire department should be told to stop using the code. She said yes, but Slinkard decided to update only investigative standard operating procedures.

Our timeline picks up at the start of 2024 when we're told Finner found the code was still being used. He finally addressed the issue to the public on Feb. 16.

Despite the bounty of names and people who knew about the code, Whitmire and the panel said this is not a leadership issue. Panel lead Ellen Cohen said the real problem is that many divisions use different software and programs to track cases, and cases go through so many divisions in their lifetime that it slows down the whole investigative process, and that is how we got here.

HPD is asking victims whose contact information has changed since the time of their report to call (713) 308-1180 or email specialvictimsreport@houstonpolice.org.

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SEE ALSO: ABC13 asks HPD to find out how 10K suspended reports per week are being reviewed

"It's my responsibility now to look even deeper into it," HPD's Acting Chief Larry Satterwhite said on how suspended incident reports will be reviewed.