Commentary By Clarence Bradford
I have spoken and written about “Citizens and Police Interaction – The Next Necessary Step!” As chaos and destruction have captured Minneapolis, and other American cities; again I will sound the alarm and make a sound recommendation regarding how to start amending the disconnect between police and neighborhood residents. Many residents do not trust the process used to receive, review and dispose of police misconduct complaints. This is especially true in the minority communities.
So, what must be the next step? Real action, not delay and diversion ploys that are being proposed by some officials already. The community’s outcry is, and has been for last 10-15 years, about greater oversight of how police misconduct complaints are handled. The justified, and much needed, change that is being pushed today, isn’t just about the release of body-worn camera videos either. It is much broader and intended to render institutional change within police agencies. Community stakeholder groups and police representatives must engage in an open, meaningful, discussion regarding critical aspects of today’s policing. These group representatives must have equal input, authority and respect at the discussion table.
In Houston, what community stakeholder groups must be involved?
League of Women Voters
Houston Bar Association
Houston Justice Coalition
Harris County Deputies’ Organization
Houston Police Officers Union
Anti-Defamation League – Houston
Black Lives Matter
The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD
Coalition for the Homeless
Houston Area Urban League
Super Neighborhood Alliance
National Black United Front
Harris County of Council Organizations
Houston Lawyers Association
Mexican American Bar Association of Houston
Asian American Bar Association of Houston
Houston Area Ministers Against Crime
Greater Houston Partnership
Houston Police Department
Harris County Sheriff’s Department
Harris County Constables Office Precincts 1-8
Harris County District Attorney’s Office
Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association
Professional Bondsman of Harris County
City Attorney’s Office
Harris County Attorney’s Office
Texas Southern University
University of Houston (Central and Downtown)
St. Thomas University
African American Police Officers League
Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers
Afro-American Sheriff Deputies League
South Texas College of Law
Houston City Council Public Safety Committee Chair
Houston Independent School District
Houston GLBT Caucus
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (Houston)
Women Professionals in Government
And perhaps others?
What issues must be discussed in Houston and across America?
To ensure citizens more substantive input in police operations and real accountability mechanisms are embedded in a process developed jointly by community stakeholders and the police, the below issues should be openly discussed as agenda items:
How police are recruited.
How police are trained.
How police performance is evaluated.
How police complaints are received.
How police complaints are investigated.
How police complaints are disposed or finalized.
Citizens must understand certain aspects of police operations. An open and transparent meeting would assist in bringing about that understanding and permit citizens to help “design and build” an improved process. If we are ever going to build, or re-build, that much needed contact, communication, trust and information exchange between police and residents, residents must have confidence, greater input and accountability from the police in Houston, and across America. One way to do this is to jointly discuss and develop some of the guidelines, policies, and law surrounding today’s police practices.
What is “Independent Review and Oversight?” After a detailed, and perhaps hard fought, discussion to determine the criteria or qualifications to serve on such a review board, each respective community stakeholder group must be permitted to designate its own representative to serve on the board. And, as long as the representative meets the established criteria, only that group can remove or replace their representative, not any one at city hall or the police department. These stakeholder groups must be able to make their own appointments, not recommendations. Additionally, the review board must have the authority, access to documents, records, and ability to initiate action and investigations on its own authority. If it cannot initiate action and investigate, when needed or desired, how can it be deemed “independent?”
Public safety is a community responsibility. This means that citizens, businesses, faith leaders, police, district attorneys, and the courts are all intertwined and play a role in keeping our neighborhoods safe. As public safety officials, we need citizens to participate in the process willingly as witnesses, jurors, and mindful caretakers in their respective neighborhoods. But, to accomplish this, law enforcement must establish contact and meaningful communication with the residents to build trust and an environment where the voluntary exchange of information is fostered, and respected.
America and Houston need this collaborative discussion, and our citizens are demanding it!
C.O. “Brad” Bradford is a former Houston chief of police, at large city council member, vice mayor pro tem, and currently a special prosecutor and law enforcement liaison in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.