This post is a summary of police reform efforts in Houston, and what is needed from faith communities. There are, however, some basic learning applicable to congregations in every context. I encourage you to read on.
Mayor Turner and other key city leaders met with Faith Leaders on Police Reform on the morning of August 10, 2021.
Later that day, new HPD Chief Troy Finner met with the Faith Council (8 bishops and clergy from Houston Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths).
Executive Summary: What is needed of faith communities
There’s much more detail below, but first here is the executive summary. Six points:
1. Connect with law enforcement. Get to know your church’s local law enforcement. Let them know they are welcome to hold meetings at your church. Offer them free coffee (and whatever else you’ve got) when your building is open. Let them know they are welcome to park in your parking lot or take a break in your building. Pray for them in worship. Publicly thank them. 20% of officers show signs of PTSD. If you have counseling resources, let us know. They deal with a lot.
2. Build a relationship between law enforcement and the community. Whether you are in the country or in the city, policing depends upon a trusting relationship between law-enforcement and the community they serve. Help build that relationship. Schedule opportunities for law-enforcement to meet with a community at your congregation a couple of times of year. HPD in particular wants to have district gatherings of concerned citizens to listen and also to share challenges. Contact them now, and schedule one up for later this fall when the current spike settles down.
3. Domestic Violence Domestic violence has been on the rise during the pandemic due to social isolation. Most abused women and children stay because they have no other options. Locate housing, food and other essentials, and let your people know what’s out there. If it’s not out there, work together to address the need. Get the number for your local hotline and make the information easily accessible: bulletin, newsletter, church office, signage, brochures.
4. Childhood Trauma. There are a lot of kids with trauma out there due to COVID and also violence. Youth programs are more than just fun activities for the kids. They give them social connections, adults and peers to turn to in times of trouble, and most of all, hope. For that matter, the adults need hope too. Faith communities are critical in this arena.
5. Dashboards. Let people know about the five dashboards, which provide transparency and accountability. (More information below.) They’re no use if no one knows about them.
6. COVID. We really need in-person school for our kids this fall. Many of our kids have fallen behind. Some may never catch up. Asking people to wear masks should be a no-brainer. Let’s protect our children and our teachers. Please talk to your people. Please speak to your government leaders.
Mayor Turner: We are asking too much of our police officers. We have 5,200 police serving the people of this city. They get called for everything. Our plan is that 911 calls related to homelessness and mental illness will go to the appropriate place. These are usually not (and should not be) law enforcement issues.
The current Police Reform Plan is designed to make things better for our officers and also for the community. Police reform is to make our good department even better. Better for officers and better for the community.
We are devoting $25 million to this plan over the next three years (2021-2023). It contains 104 reforms, including body cams, overhaul of the Independent Police Oversight Board, a ban on no-knock warrants for non-violent offenses, and more. Crystal Okorafor (former Houston ADA) has been appointed deputy inspector general to a new Office of Policing Reform and Accountability.
Crystal Okorafor (OPRA) spoke: Citizens and officers can now make complaints in five languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Arabic. I respond to each one personally. We have created five dashboards for accountability and transparency: 1. Cite and Release, 2. Traffic Stops by Race and Gender, 3. Use of Force, 4. Disciplinary Actions and 5. HPD Diversity. Crystal would like to come and speak at a community meeting at your church.
Diversity is critical. Cultural differences matter. If you have a predominantly white police force in a predominantly black or Latino neighborhood, they are bound to be clashes, and already stressed police will interpret body language as aggression. As bishop, I would say we face a similar challenge as the church. If we don’t diversify in a rapidly diversifying culture, we risk doing violence to our neighbor, sometimes accidentally, sometimes out of ignorance.
Mayor Turner: We need more officers. Our hope is to get up to 5,500 officers. The challenge is, when I started there were 1,900 officers eligible to retire. Now it’s down to 1,500 but that’s still a lot. Even if we graduate 300 a year, if 250 retire, it will take a long time to build our ranks.
Our biggest challenges are substance abuse, crisis intervention, homelessness and mental illness. These are social issues that can’t be solved by police. Faith leaders, we need you.
The community asked for these reforms. We need your help.
Larry Payne, Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform: We were all called to leadership for such a time as this. Police reform is community reform. It is societal reform. Policing is about a trusting relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Congregations play a vital role in this.
A word about COVID
The mayor made an earnest plea for getting vaccinate and wearing masks. Please. We have police officers out into he front line. 22,000 city employees. Full ICUs.
We really need in-person school for our kids this fall. Many of our kids have fallen behind. Some may never catch up. Asking people to wear masks should be a no-brainer. Let’s protect our children and our teachers. Please talk to your people. Please speak to your government leaders. This is so important.
HPD Chief Troy Finner
Chief Finner is a native Houstonian from Fifth Ward. He stepped up when Art Acevedo stepped down. He spoke at the Mayor’s meeting, then met with a few of us later.
It was at this meeting that we pushed for the specific asks listed in the six-point summary above. We also discussed the juvenile justice initiative, a community effort intervene in school altercations before law enforcement gets involved and kids get booked for misdemeanor stuff that shouldn’t be on the record.
Chief Finner talked about the backlog of court cases in every city in the U.S. He also expressed apprehension about the new permitless carry law about to go into effect. Officers are understandably anxious. Gangs can stand on the corner with holstered guns, and officers can’t ask about them or check a permit. Before, guns were probably cause. This not only puts the officers at higher risk but also the community. With permits required for so many things in public, it’s hard to understand why this law, especially now when tensions are so high, and when many backlogged alleged criminals are on the street due to COVID outbreaks in the jails. The group prayed for the chief, his staff and the officers.
Pastors are community leaders. As bishop, I am grateful for your leadership, not only in your congregation, but also in your community. You are part of the immunity system of society. This leadership is exhausting, I know, especially in anxious times. I pray for you, that you will tend to your own spiritual, emotional and physical health, as you serve yourself community with bold leadership and humility.
More Docs for reference