Many HPD and HPOU members traveled to Washington, D.C. for Police Week. HPD had been blessed for another year without an officer being killed in the line of duty. The last officer HPD lost was Kevin Scott Will, struck and killed by a drunk driver on May 29, 2011.
That all changed in the early morning hours of May 18 at Kirkwood and St. Mary’s in west Houston.
The 84th legislative session ended on June 1, but due to deadlines, this article was written prior to the session ending.
Legislative Session Ends
We have been actively monitoring nearly 300 pieces of legislation in the Texas House and Senate. The most notable efforts have been made to prevent the forces who want to convert law enforcement pensions to defined contribution plans/401’s.
The charge to attack law enforcement pensions this session was led by newly elected Senator Paul Bettencourt, (R) Houston, and Representative Jim Murphy, (R) Houston. Both legislators, if allowed to do so, would have devastated past, current and future Houston police officers’ pensions.
We are extremely appreciative to Representative Dan Flynn, (R) Van Zandt, who chairs the House Pensions Committee, for his willingness to not be swayed by the pleadings of those who have shown their true colors as it relates to support for working law enforcement officers.
Additionally, our success in thwarting those who want to radically change our pension benefit happened due to the loyal support and hard work of every other House member in the Houston delegation. On the Senate side, we received key help from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, (R), Senator John Whitmire, (D), Senator Joan Huffman, (R), Senator Rodney Ellis, (D), Senator Sylvia Garcia, (D), and Senator Larry Taylor, (R), Friendswood, to prevent any move attacking our pension.
Stopping Other Issues
Other legislative issues to advance legislation that would impose civilian review boards in Houston or enable unsustained or unfounded complaints against HPD officers to become public were stopped.
Efforts to prevent public employee groups (police, fire and EMS were excluded) from utilizing payroll deduction for dues, insurance benefits or charitable giving was stopped. This issue was part of a nationwide effort by ultra-conservative organizations and corporate interests, all private sector interests. Their mission, while unsuccessful this session, is to further cripple unions and other employee organizations who are politically active.
Additionally, from our perspective, there is no doubt the anti-pension forces also are involved in this effort. Killing labor organizations would create an easier path for those who want to control the political agenda and redirect resources ($$$) to issues that more directly benefit them.
There were some good bills too. HB2037, by Geren, (R), Fort Worth, enables the spouses of slain police officers and firefighters to maintain workers compensation benefits they earned even if they remarry. Also, HB1278 by Hughes, (R) Mineola, increases the line of duty death benefits for police and firefighters from $250,000 to $500,000.
Finally, one lingering issue is legislation that appears to be going to Gov. Abbott to become law that will enable citizens with CSL’s to openly carry handguns. While the issue certainly invokes different positions within the law enforcement community, the fact is the bill was amended on the Senate floor to include a provision that is terribly problematic for law enforcement officers.
Senator Don Huffines, (R), Dallas successfully amended the bill to prevent law enforcement officers from inquiring if a person had a concealed carry permit if they observed the person carrying a pistol.
Yes, you read that correctly! As written, if you see someone standing outside of a check-cashing business or day care with a pistol grip partially visible and not violating any law, you have no right to ask if the person has a state license to carry the pistol.
There are numerous real world scenarios that I could cite regarding the danger of the legislature stripping us of the ability to simply see if the person is legally carrying a pistol or not.
Unfortunately, under the provisions of the Open Carry Bill, HB 910, it seems those days are dangerously close to being over. We continue to fight this fight even as this article is being written. (A full recap of the session will be in the next Badge and Gun after the session is officially over.)
Our executive director, Mark Clark, has been at the Capitol daily since the session began. Mark and I have spent significant amounts of time and effort in Austin to protect the rights and benefits of our members as well as other law enforcement organizations. These past five months have underscored the HPOU’s ability to impact legislation and articulate the needs of working police officers. In particular, I have heard from several legislators that while they may disagree with our position on certain issues, they laud our ability to advance our side of an argument.
Feel free to verify this from your local state rep or senator.
Despite the serious law enforcement issue associated with HB910 by Phillips, (R), Sherman, (Open Carry), we have had a very good session. Our efforts in Austin would not be possible without a strong and supportive membership that understands the impact of politics in our day-to-day lives.
We also thank our partners in the fight, including TMPA, Dallas Police Association, DPSOA, Harris County District Attorneys and others who attended the weekly strategy meetings.
No July Meeting
As a reminder, there is no monthly meeting for the HPOU in July. The next monthly meeting will be Aug. 6. We wish each of you a happy and safe Fourth of July.
Officers were pursuing an evading suspect north on Kirkwood near the Katy Freeway. Four-year Westside Officer Richard Martin was deploying spike strips when the suspect, a wanted felon, drove toward the officer, striking him and killing him instantly. The suspect continued to flee before being stopped in North Houston, where he shot himself in the head.
I pray none of you ever have to witness a tragedy like that accident. Officers who witnessed the tragedy were obviously distraught at the scene, but continued to do what Houston police officers always do, their job. I recall one of the jurors in the Kevin Will case stating how amazed he and his fellow jurors were that comrades can continue to do the job they are sworn to do when one of their own has just been killed.
As the body of Officer Martin was loaded by the medical examiner, Assistant Chief John Chen brought all officers on the scene to attention and all saluted this hero. He was then transported by police escort.
We thank Police Chief Charles McClelland and many of the command staff for making the scene and comforting the officers. Thanks also go out to District Attorney Devon Anderson for making the scene and stating that she would pursue capital murder charges against the suspect if he survived. Mayor Parker contacted us immediately to offer her condolences and pledge any resources needed by the family.
The suspect died a few days later. Congressman Ted Poe delivered a moving tribute to Officer Martin in the U.S. Capitol. As for the suspect, Poe stated, “the killer died, thus avoiding the hangman.”
A funeral with full honors was held at Grace Community Church on May 22. The body of Officer Martin was transported by police escort to Oklahoma for burial. Assistant Chief Charlie Vazquez accompanied the body and praised law enforcement across the state of Texas and Oklahoma for their assistance along the route. (Assistant Chief Vazquez has a full account of the accolades in this edition.)
Please keep the children and family of Officer Richard Martin and all the officers at the Westside station in your thoughts and prayers.
Thanks to all who assisted in giving Richard Martin the funeral and burial he deserved. The list includes Geo. Lewis Funeral Home, the pastor and staff of Grace Community Church, HPD Honor Guard, Lt. Corby Wilk and the staff at Employee Services, Air Support, Solos, Mounted Patrol, Assistant Chief Charlie Vazquez, Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr. and all who assisted.
Officer Richard Martin is the 113th HPD Officer killed in the line of duty since 1860. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.