HPD a leader in its establishment of policing liaisons to each ethnic, religious and special interest communities

Tom Kennedy

The Houston Police Department continues to take community-oriented policing to new levels that puts the department in national leadership status.

HPD currently has on duty full-time liaisons tasked with keeping in steady communications with every special interest, ethnic and religious group in the nation’s most diverse city.

Under the Public Affairs Division umbrella, these officers and civilians stay in contact with community and religious, laying the necessary groundwork for communications instead of divisions were a potential policing conflict arise.

“The Public Affairs Division is a great asset to HPD,” Sgt. Larry Hernandez said. “These officers and civilians are proactive. They make regular visits to the communities they serve. Also, if there is an issue or any concern in the community, the leaders or community memb ers will reach out to the liaisons.”

This practice is a positive offshoot of what then-Police Chief Lee P. Brown began in 1982 when he first came to Houston to take over leadership of the department. Initially, veteran officers didn’t take to the change in the approach to policing but gradually and effectively adapted to the concept. It was quickly labeled “community-oriented policing.”

Hernandez’ bailiwick is only a part of the total community/police partnerships.

Sgt. Willie Anthony and Officer Janet Arceneaux handle the department’s direct relationship with Houston’s African American community, while Princina Brown-Thomas and Ken Dang serve as HPD’s connections to the Vietnamese community.  Brown-Thomas and Dang are both civilians.

Officer Ethel Joseph leads the liaison operation in connection with the city’s highly active Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities.

To round out the community liaison roster, Officer Muzaffar Siddiqi (South Asian and Middle Eastern), Officer Rafael Pantoja (Hispanic), Officer Ted Wang (Asian), Officer Jed Rose (Korean) civilian Stephen Daniel (Jewish) and Officer Barry Curtis, who serves as the HPD’s direct link to the Police and Clergy Alliance (PACA).

This community liaison philosophy represents a policing practice picked up and promoted by each of the police chiefs following Chief Brown, who later became mayor of Houston.

Officer Siddiqi has been nationally recognized for work that began 17 years ago to enable the department to better understand the city’s Muslim community even before 9-Eleven.

“Having someone in place like Siddiqi, well, we don’t want to say diminishes the chances for problems,” Hernandez said. “Anything could happen. The relationship makes the chances of that happening are considerably less because of his contacts and his networking in those communities.”

Of course, the same thing can be said for the relationships with the other diverse communities.

Today, Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo meets at least quarterly with each of these ethnic, religious and special interest community. Their representatives share their concerns with her and ask the hard questions. These representatives know the chief’s door is open, Hernandez explained.

In addition, last year the department began a specially scheduled bus tour that takes HPD cadets to each of the different communities where community leaders provide historic information and pertinent facts about current community activities. The tour usually takes eight hours and is provided in addition to the community and religious sensitivity training in the Academy’s curriculum.

Referencing this special unit’s ongoing practices, Hernandez said, “Every day somebody calls one of these officers or civilian representatives with a question or comment about what’s going on in their world today. They talk about the news and all the issues we have going on today. They (liaisons) cover that wide spectrum of questions.”

Hernandez said the HPD liaisons also attend many weekend festivals and other special events in order to become acquainted with other members of the communities with whom they network.

“These are not your typical 8-to-4 guys,” the sergeant said. “They often attend these events on Saturdays and Sundays.”