District G Councilman Greg Travis finds council district Budget monies to fund 200 Level 4 bullet-proof vests

Tom Kennedy

Councilman Greg Travis has proven he does his homework before he puts the money in his council district service fund where one might say the councilman’s mouth is.

For, you see, Travis talks the HPD talk and walks the walk by putting funding where he’s learned it should be used – for the protection and safety of HPD officers in his District G on the westside, the scene of a memorable Memorial Day 2016 active shooter scene.

Learning the Vest Lesson

Specifically, Travis and his staff recently announced the purchase of 200 Level 4 bullet-proof vests to be on hand in the event there is another active shooter like the one that happened on May 29, 2016. The shots were fired not all that far from Travis’ house.

“Why did we buy these?” Travis asks rhetorically, “because the officers need them. I learned that from the Memorial Day shooting in my district. The officers who were first on the scene needed them but didn’t have them. Now they do if something like this ever happens again.

“This purchase also came as the result of lessons learned from the Dallas police shooting,” he said, referring to an active shooter’s murder of five officers – four from the Dallas Police Department.

The first-term councilman did lots of that homework right there on the Memorial Drive scene, where he became very much aware of the fact that the first responders there lacked the proper protective covering to keep the bullets from high-powered automatic weapons from perhaps deadly penetration.

Travis observed that numerous shots aimed at uniformed first responders were fired before the fast-acting SWAT officers arrived to confront the shooter.

He remembered the occasion very vividly: “The shooter put 21 holes in an HPD car. Okay, there’s no question if an officer had been inside he might have been killed. He wouldn’t have had the proper protection.”

Generally speaking, the initial officers on the scene were not equipped with the Level 4 vests like those worn by SWAT officers.

But, Travis noted, “It took SWAT longer to get there than it did first responders.” All told, one the shooter killed one civilian and wounded two constables before a SWAT officer shot and killed him.

The shooter used an AR-15 to fire shots all around, including five at an HPD helicopter hovering over his head.

Today, 200 additional first responders in District G and in Central Patrol have the vests ready in their patrol cars in case they encounter another active shooter.

In doing his homework, Travis learned that the proper distribution numbers were the following: 64 vests at Central, 64 at Midwest and 72 at Westside.

The story of how Travis and his staff devised the plan should warm the vest-covered hearts of every HPD Patrol officer. He did it quietly and made sure the vests were in the proper hands before there was some recognition in the news media.

“We didn’t do it for the media attention,” he told the Badge & Gun, “We did it because it’s the right thing to do to protect our officers.”

Applause for Travis

No one recognizes the homework and resulting action better than HPOU President Ray Hunt.

“I applaud Council Member Travis coming to us saying he wanted to do something. We didn’t bat an eye. We suggested the vests and he and his very able staff took this plan and ran with it, got the funding and mad sure that it became reality.

“We can’t thank Greg and his staff enough for their dedication and commitment to the safety of Houston police officers.

“I suggest to every officer who encounters Greg to express their appreciation for his obviously heart-felt priority.”

It should be noted that HPD-related individuals played prominent roles in Travis’ efforts.

First, there’s the funding mechanism. Each Houston City Council member has had up to $1 million for use in what is termed a “council district service fund” or CDSF. Set up under Mayor Annise Parker, the individual fund has been reduced down to $725,000.

It turns out that this special funding mechanism – which Travis points out only amounts to .000089 percent of the city budget – was initiated by a former council member by the name of Clarence O. “Brad” Bradford, also a former HPD police chief.

Travis stays up front about his staff members – “I have the best staff anywhere” and credits them with expert homework that resulted in the sometimes-complicated project to require only a few months to bring to fruition.

Special credit, Travis said, goes to his chief of communications, Mark Kirschke, but also to his chief of staff, Monica Aizpurua, and staff members Kathleen Osborne and Cristal Pena.

Second HPD connection: Cristal is the daughter of HPD Officer Jose Pena.

And the close HPD relationships don’t stop there.

There’s a third. Travis and Kirschke credit HPD’s Stephen Daniel, the teacher of the widely acclaimed HPD active shooter class, for spawning a broader understanding of police interaction with active shooters. Daniel taught a class consisting of City Council members and their aides.

“We saw the film clip of Columbine and what happened when police secured the area while the shooters were inside committing murders,” Kirschke said, underscoring the lesson learned: active shooters must be confronted immediately in order to save lives.”

The April 20, 1999 massacre resulted in the deaths of 13 persons and injuries to 24 others.

Not only did Travis and his staff know all about the needs of first-responding police officers to active-shooter scenes, they knew how to get the best deal possible for Level 4 vests – through the Houston Police Foundation and ever-ready executive director Charlene Floyd. That’s the fourth very useful HPD connection.

Working with Floyd, Kirschke got the lowest price available, providing what has proven to be the best possible deal for District G residents and Houston police officers.

“They will have these in their trunks, where they will be available in case they’re ever needed,” Councilman Travis said. “I hope they never have to use them. But staying safe means being ready with the right equipment.

“We know it’s dangerous out there. We need to make it less dangerous if we give them the right equipment.”

Once again demonstrating the lessons he has learned from doing his homework on the subject of officer safety, the councilman said he would like to see bullet-proof glass for patrol cars not only for windshield use but also for the side windows.

“We need more police and better equipment,” he explained. “We need to make the windows bullet-proof on both the front and side windows. Remember that the New York police officer was shot through the side window of her patrol car.”

Other Future Goals

He believes the cost of this special equipment “has come down” and needs serious consideration by Houston’s elected officials.

Travis emphasized a Houston community profile that he believes distinguishes the Bayou City from other big cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. “We have good police officers and a good (city) administration that works within the community.

“They tell us that in the summer it gets to be really hot in Chicago and that the heat tends to cause more problems with police in the communities. That’s why Chicago has so many murders.

“If heat is what causes murders then Houston should be the murder capital of the world. We’re not. And that shows you what good police officers we have.

“Chicago is not as hot as Houston, where it’s hot here 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Travis praised HPD for its community-oriented policing that enables officers and the Command Staff from a majority-minority force to generate better community relationships and keep tabs on potentially volatile conditions.

He said he plans to keep HPD in the crosshairs of his Council District Service Fund. His next target: finding and securing the best possible obstacle course at the Academy.