Chief McClelland: HPD’s Majority Minority Demographic a ‘Shock’ to most Houstonians

Police Chief Charles “Chuck” McClelland is quick to point out and detail HPD demographic information that he admits only a few Houstonians know about.

McClelland said the department is the most diversified big-city PD in the nation, a positive effect from the fact that Houston is recognized as the most diverse city in the United States.

This fact is the primary reason why the chief told the Badge & Gun that HPD is – and always will be – a “majority minority” department.

Hispanics largest percentage

The chief said too few Houstonians realize this rather intriguing datum during a time period when a growing number of minority citizens in the U. S. have a growing distrust of law enforcement officers.

“I know that they are not aware of this,” McClelland said, “because every time I tell people that HPD is a majority minority department they seem shocked. The other big cities? They are not (majority minority).”

HPD now consists of 53 percent minority officers.

“Hispanics are the largest at 24 percent,” he said. “African Americans are next with 22 percent.

The rest of the 53 consists of Asians/Pacific Island, Native Americans, Indians and those from countries from all over the world.”

And the chief added another benefit: “Because of the diversity in Houston and the rich and fertile recruiting grounds we have in our city and the size of our city, a lot of our recruits are from Houston.”

He said about 90 percent of recent recruits hail from the Greater Houston area.

“They grew up in diverse neighborhoods and went to diverse high schools, went to diverse universities. When we hired them they have a connection with the community. Not only did they come from this community, but their parents still live in inner city neighborhoods.

“In addition to this diversity, approximately 16 percent of the men and women in the police department are women. The national average is around 10 or 12 percent. The only Texas city with more is Dallas, where they’re a little bit higher at around 18 percent.

“But Dallas is nowhere near where we are when it comes to the minority/ethnic racial breakdown. We have almost 1,500 officers in the department that speak more than one language. It’s not just Spanish, either. We speak all types of languages: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic and many other languages.”

McClelland also wants to remind the citizens served by HPD that more than 100 languages are spoken in the city where at least 70 foreign countries have consulates.

Houston is the fourth largest city in America but has the fifth largest PD. With its depleting number of officers (less than 5,200), the Bayou City doesn’t stack up very well in terms of officers per square mile. It never has over the course of history. While the larger police forces have many more officers, they also have smaller areas to patrol and serve. While New York City has 100 square miles and Philadelphia 120, Houston has 639.

McClelland pointed out that most of HPD’s recruits from other states “are men and women from the military and the military is still a very, very diverse organization. We recruit at all military bases across the country.”

The chief went down the line with his numbers:

“We have 10 assistant chiefs, four executive assistant chiefs and one chief – that’s 15 Command Staff member. Of that 15, nine are women and minorities. On a per capita basis we are one of the most diverse command staffs in the country. That’s far better diversity than San Antonio, Austin or Dallas. You can Google their pictures and verify that.”

Houstonians ignore facts

McClelland was queried about whether he cited a record like this when minority politicians grill him about alleged brutality by police, a questions that inevitably arises in the wake of incidents like those in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.

Does he, the chief was asked, request local elected minority politicians to help him recruit young African American and Hispanic males and females to the force in order to improve diversity?

“Yes I have,” he responded, and then reflecting on his success rate said, “Not a very good one. Usually the normal response I get from folks is that they say ‘Before they decide to join HPD they have to trust HPD.’ ”

Actually the chief doesn’t believe Houston’s minority citizens have as much “disconnect” from the police force as do those from other parts of the nation.

“I don’t buy all of the disconnect perception,” he said. “Perception is reality in many places. The disconnect is coming from the very communities that have the perception that we’re not diverse.

“People are ignoring the facts because they are actually uninformed and don’t know the facts.

“Here’s where we differ from other cities. The reason why I belie Houston is different from Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore is a couple of things: 1. Our city is more diverse and our police department is more diverse; 2. Houston has had community policing since the 1980s.”

The chief said in the context of the Ferguson and Baltimore events, he has been asked why HPD “stopped” community policing.

“No,” he said. “We have not stopped doing community policing; we have increased the number of community policing initiatives. We have twice as much as when Dr. Lee Brown was police chief and ushered in the philosophy.”

Today HPD has a program or initiative for every Houston demographic – at-risk kids, high school teens, young adults, middle-aged adults and the elderly and “every ethnic background you can think of. This is how we try to work with the communities to resolve problems.”

McClelland believes that if standings were maintained about police chiefs and the number of meetings he or she has with community leaders that he would lead the league.

“I’ve met regularly with African Americans, Asians, Middle Eastern leaders, Jewish, Muslims and the LGBT – just to name a few. We meet regularly on a quarterly basis to talk about issues and challenges, how best to address those. We come to the table with solutions and not just problems.”

One of the latest examples of success is the PRAY FOR POLICE campaign and the involvement of PACA – the Police and Clergy Alliance, a group which formulated about three years ago when the chief ordered up a plan to merge at least five ministerial advisory groups into “one group all pulling the same direction although they might have a different constituency or congregation.”

When the chief appeared at the Sept. 8 press conference at the HPOU to announce the prayer campaign and the 24-hour prayer vigil, numerous PACA volunteer ministers stood next to him and other law enforcement personnel and political sympathizers. The ongoing prayer campaign continues to be a huge success. (Please see other coverage in this issue).

Not enough funding

“It’s unfortunate that this tragic death of Officer (Deputy) Goforth has triggered this movement,” he said. “But it’s positive for officers to know that there’s an overwhelming number of citizens in our community that support them, back them and stand behind them.”

McClelland theorized that socio-economic conditions, particularly high unemployment of African American males, were the real causes of racial uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore.

“You only need a triggering event,” the chief said. “The riot in Ferguson didn’t really happen because Michael Brown was killed. That was a trigger event. It wasn’t abuse by police; it was no jobs, no diversity, the poor being hit with excessive fines and fees. The people were a revenue stream for the city.

“We don’t have that in Houston. Houston is so diverse. It’s one of our strengths. We don’t have homogeneity, we have diverse neighborhoods.”

The Ferguson events were predictable since the Missouri suburb had high unemployment among males with little education and no job skills, conditions that caused many “to turn something illegitimate.”

The chief is proud of a new video produced by the department and available on YouTube. Called “Police and Citizen Interaction,” it outlines what to do if you are detained by a police officer.

“This video is very, very helpful to young people,” McClelland said. “No other police department has the forward-thinking platforms we have in terms of social media.”

The video is getting a growing number of views and actually could be used by any law enforcement agency in the nation to communicate the basic police rules of the road.

There are numerous policies and practices that distinguish Houston in positive light when compared to places like Ferguson. McClelland is glad to keep outlining them.

Responding to the high unemployment factor, for instance, the chief talked about his regular sit-downs in joint sessions with community leaders and business leaders. The agenda is to find ways to give young minority men job opportunities and provide support systems, often in view of the fact that some of them have made a mistake and paid for it with jail time.

“For those who make a mistake, once they’ve paid their debt you’ve got to take a chance on them and give them a job,” he said. “We don’t have enough money to build enough prisons and jails to lock everybody up. It’s more efficient to allow them to learn from their mistakes and use an opportunity. We’ve got to provide an opportunity for those who want to do the right thing.”

To the surprise of few local police historians, Houston’s police chief expressed the oft-heard advocacy for an increased number of police cadets to keep up with HPD attrition and provide more officers to patrol those 639 square miles of Texas’ largest city. The problem, as it’s been throughout history, is money – or the lack of it.

“I would like to see a public safety tax or the tax cap revised for additional public safety funding,” he said. “I feel this way because the primary and most fundamental responsibility of any government at any level is to keep its citizens safe.

“Garbage, streets and sidewalks are important but not as important as keeping citizens and residents safe. In order to do that you have to have the right amount of money.”