Editorial: HPD community liaison team positive force in Houston, elsewhere

Tom Kennedy

THE SEEMINGLY ENDLESS ACTS OF VIOLENCE against police officers this summer has emblazoned the words EXTRA SAFETY and CAUTION in the minds of all of HPD’s finest.

As any Patrol officer who has ever pulled over a driver for a minor offense knows, anything can happen. The precautions we undertake don’t always mean our confrontations result in compliance and safety for all concerned.

Houston is a huge city, a fast-growing city and the nation’s most diverse city in terms of ethnic groups and immigrants, religions and special interests. No one can assert that the department isn’t doing all it can to ensure open-door policies of communication and cooperation with each of these communities. We believe HPD’s use of community liaisons fully ranks as a national trendsetter among big-city police departments.

This well-established effort built up from a sometimes controversial foundation laid by Police Chief Lee P. Brown, who led HPD as an outsider appointed by a mayor, Kathy Whitmire, who was extremely unpopular with street officers. Brown developed the buzz term “community-oriented policing” and stressed throughout his seven-year tenure that constant communications with community leaders would lead to lower crime rates and stronger citizen cooperation.

Brown’s effort began with establishing connections to the city’s African American and Hispanic communities but his influence and encouragement never stopped there. In fact, his first community town-hall meeting was with gay leaders in Montrose.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown referred to his department’s relations with communities as a strong suit in the wake of the wanton murder of five Dallas officers at the hands of one mentally disturbed individual. We like to believe that Dallas followed Houston PD’s lead years ago and the productive approach has proved to enhance the likelihood of recruiting a more ethnically diverse department. HPD has certainly proved the effectiveness of communications, for it is now possesses “majority minority” roster of police officers.

Currently the Public Affairs Division is home to a number of community liaisons who maintain constant communications with not only the African American and Hispanic community leadership but also leaders amongst the following communities or special interests: Muslim/Hindus, LGBT, Asians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Jewish and the group we know as PACA, the Police and Clergy Alliance. There will be others as the need is recognized.

Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo has followed up the time-tested practice of her predecessors by meeting on at least a quarterly basis with leaders of these communities. Police cadets receive a one-day bus tour of the communities and participate in an education Q-and-A with their leaders. The Badge & Gun will attempt to communicate the latest liaison activities in upcoming issues.

This year will go down as provoking great learning experiences for police departments in America who now feel the tragedy of not yet establishing better, more communicative relationships with the communities they serve. We never know what tense events are in Houston’s future, but HPD has learned many lessons and continues to take positive steps forward.