Union leaders have positive take on the McClelland era

Tom Kennedy

HPOU President Ray Hunt paid special tribute to retiring Police Chief Charles McClelland at the Union’s general membership meeting on Feb. 4, calling him the best chief the department has had in the last quarter of a century.

As the McClelland’s number of service days wound down in the month of February many other Houston officers echoed Hunt’s feelings. The Union president was quoted in the paper and on TV and was consistent with his overall positive evaluation of a man who has served the department almost four decades.

The primary thrust of Hunt’s praises focused on the ability and deep understanding of the chief, as the head of management, to fully understand, communicate with and work with Labor no matter how small or far-reaching the issue.

“I have never worked with a manager who understood Labor issues as well as Chief McClelland,” Hunt said. “He has been a part of the department and worked his way up from being a street cop on patrol, through the ranks of mid-management and up to the top. He has never forgotten what it’s like being one of the troops and he’s understood every issue involving our troops throughout his years in office.”

When faced with controversies, McClelland invited the DA and/or the FBI to do their own review, Hunt said, also touting recent drops in use-of-force complaints against officers. No one has worked as tirelessly with every community and neighborhood in Houston in order to learn where problem spots are and do something about them, Hunt said.

“He has made our department able to operate to keep crime relatively low, a significant number of officers short, and that’s a big deal,” the Union president said. “Persons are willing to step up and work for him because they know he’s out there working as well.”

From Day One, McClelland has understood the importance of his troops and has always “walked the walk and backed the talk,” Hunt said.

The three vice presidents of the Union shared similar views, each picking up on McClelland’s strong points.

HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith said, “It gets down to how well he works with everyone. That includes the community and the labor. In many cities you have a contentious relationship between management and labor and we don’t have that here.

“He had a true heart for the officers in this department and believes that his most important resource was his people and that showed in his actions.

“It helped that he was someone who knew the organization inside and out, someone who has been here a considerable amount of time. He knew a lot of the people personally. He’s been involved in a lot of changes.

“We’ve seen changes in the computer system, the radio system, the uniforms, the cars. We have Tasers and are getting body cameras.”

Griffith continued:

“He initiated the first tracking of use of force. Before probably two years ago we didn’t track our use of force. We now track that. He was able to keep the Department of Justice from us by leading by example and making sure we had what we needed as officers.

“We didn’t always agree on everything but he understood the nature of his work versus the nature of our work. I had many arguments with him but he never held that against me. We were both passionate about the depart and the officers who work here. At the end of the day we’re all in this for the same reason.”

Both 2nd and 3rd HPOU vice presidents, Joe Gamaldi and Sgt. Tom Hayes agreed with every word expressed by Hunt and Griffith.

All conceded that McClelland did the best with the limited resources and manpower he had at his disposal. Throughout history the department – despite taking up the highest percentage of the city’s tax-funded general fund – has never had enough officers to patrol a city spread out over 639 square miles with the nation’s fourth largest population.

“Obviously he certainly endeared himself to the troops by starting out as a patrolman,” Gamaldi said. “He had done the same job as his officers. He was able to better relate to the issues that relate to your officers as a result of having been out there on the streets.

“He’s had an open door and has been willing to discuss issues with us. We haven’t agreed on everything but I think the important message is that he was always open and willing to have conversations about even the lesser controversial issues so that we could work to a result that benefitted both the officer and the department.”

“I think he did a very good job given the resources he had,” Sgt. Hayes said. “He certainly advanced us in technology. Maybe it didn’t always go as well as he hoped but he meant the right thing.”

“He meant to get us more advanced in a technology fashion. In a time of negative feeling about police officers throughout the nation, through his leadership we did not have incidences in this city like those that have taken place in other parts of the nation.”