“Tonight, Houston homicide detectives are working to solve the murder of a man found stabbed in a parking lot.”
In Houston, the first five minutes of every newscast includes words like these. When we hear news reporters providing minimalistic details of yet another murder, we believe that detectives will work to solve that particular crime because solving crimes makes us safer. Unfortunately, when Ryan Chandler and some others were assigned murder cases at the Houston Police Department, investigations remained idle and murderers remained free to roam. Thanks to the efforts of James Pinkerton, we know that Chandler had a variety of lapses including waiting years to file reports and lying about the status of murder investigations.
For years, Houstonians have heard of problems with the Houston Police Department. Historically, these issues surrounded police brutality – think Joe Campos Torres. In 2003, the city was shocked to learn about the total failing of the HPD Crime Lab. Instead of solving the root problem of incompetence and poor internal governance, our local government has simply created smoke and mirrors. Recently, Annise Parker created a local government corporation to “control” the crime laboratory; however, problems still remain.
It is long past the time that HPD withdrew from the crime lab business. Scandal after scandal has led to more bureaucratic bumbling with the same management in place. Bill King wrote a great op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle about the crime lab situation.
Another scandal broke over the holiday weekend. A senior police officer is under investigation for signing in police officers at the municipal courts when these officers were actually absent.
The purpose of the criminal justice system is to hold people accountable for their conduct and make a community safe. Our local government seems to believe that their allegiances are to the police union rather than the people of Houston. The District Attorney’s office is meant to be that check and balance – the watchdog of the police.
Now, the police department is embroiled in one scandal after another that festers because the DA’s office can’t or won’t do its job. Ryan Chandler is just the latest example of poor law enforcement leadership manifesting itself through shameless politics and mismanagement. I say this because Chandler is indicative of the problems of the crime lab, HPOU, and the command structure of HPD itself.
The HPD organizational structure is very top heavy. Each division has a number of chiefs and captains; yet, people like Ryan Chandler are permitted to exist for years. Tim Oettmeier serves as an Executive Assistant Chief over the Homicide Division at the Houston Police Department, which meant he headed up investigations during the time of the Chandler scandal. Somehow, he missed the fact that Chandler’s supervisors continued to offer identical performance evaluations.
It is no wonder that HPOU is linked up with Allen Blakemore – they both have a desire to control the local law enforcement scene. After the Pat Lykos administration prosecuted HPOU members for theft, the union paired with Allen Blakemore in November 2012 to criticize Lykos’s trace policy that had been in effect for two years. Of course, this was the public kickoff to Blakemore’s campaign to take back the DA’s office.
The truth was that Lykos, at the encouragement of senior prosecutors (who would later support her opponent), announced that, beginning in January 2010, the Harris County District Attorney’s office would not prosecute cocaine possession cases where the amounts were so small that the evidence could not be retested by the defense. At the time, the police union said that they would work together with the DA’s office.
Two years later, the union acted like they were horrified by this trace policy, even though it had been in effect for two years. The union teamed up with Blakemore to take back the DA’s office. A group of folks either sat idly by or actively participated in using a grand jury for an unlawful purpose, to oust a District Attorney.
Now, the current DA is supported by the union and is also a Blakemore client. Feel safer?
What is the future for the Houston Police Department? The agency ordered a recently-released Operational Staffing Report. As you may guess, the police report says that there is a staffing shortage and the answer to unsolved crime is more police. Instead of maximizing current staff, the Houston Police Department wants to keep the same structure and continue down the path of a less-safe Houston. This department wants the public to pay them to raise the crime rate. It has become a culture to them. Our elected officials need to reverse this problem by paying them to lower the crime rate with real results. In the last ten years, the police department’s budget has increased from $431 million to over $800 million – and not one officer has been added to the force. Truly, not only are we less safe; but, the officers themselves are less safe because of the outdated structure.
The future without change is that this reactive justice system will spiral out of control and our city will be overrun by the criminal element. It is time for our local leaders to use this opportunity to make a structural change to the Houston Police Department. Unfortunately, I don’t think the current leadership has the guts to make these necessary changes. It is easier for everyone to continue to support the union and the outdated structure. That way, no one risks a political endorsement. It is a culture of complacency.
Ed Gonzalez, a city council member and former homicide detective, is embroiled in the Chandler scandal. Do you think that Gonzalez has any suggestions about good governance concerning the police?
Why does the Harris County District Attorney’s office permit expensive special prosecutors like Jim Mount on certain cases; but, when a HPD homicide detective (married to a Harris County Assistant District Attorney) is accused of lying and potential criminal activity, the case is shipped off to the office of a former police union lawyer? And, of course, it was not surprising to see Chip Lewis, the DA’s favorite defense attorney, insert himself into the Chandler situation. Maybe that relationship deserves a closer look.
So, are we safer without Chandler? We know that solving crimes makes us safer. Holding people accountable for their actions is necessary to prevent future crime. Future offenders need to understand that this behavior will not be tolerated in our community. Firing one guy fails to attack the root of the systemic problem. Without pulling up this root, we will remain unsafe.