Here’s what that means.
This Wednesday, Houston’s City Council will meet to vote on next year’s budget that includes one billion dollars earmarked for the Houston Police Department. The vote comes amidst weeks of protests against the murder of George Floyd and rampant police brutality, including six officer involved HPD shootings in only three weeks.
The budget meeting is a vital opportunity to address the Houston Police Department’s bloated budget. HPD takes up a little more than 17% of the city’s entire budget, the second highest amount given to a single department behind Public Works. In contrast, the Health Department—in the middle of a pandemic—is slated for less than 2% of the total budget.
Police advocates claim that these large budgets, and by extension the resources to militarize police, protect officers and deter crime. This is not true. Over and over again, studies show that police militarization fails to enhance safety and harms Black communities. Researchers found no evidence that police SWAT teams lower crime rates or that they reduce the number of officers killed on duty, according to a 2018 report published in the National Academies of Science. These teams disproportionately deploy in Black neighborhoods and often times only to serve warrants.
The presence of highly armed officers inherently increases the risk of violent interactions, and they all too often end with tragic consequences. This past March, Louisville police shot Breonna Taylor to death in her own home during a no-knock warrant. Here in Houston, the Harding Street Raid, also a militaristic, no-knock attack based on a bunk tip from a dirty officer, ended the life of a couple and their dog and caused four HPD officers to wound one another with friendly fire.
HPD budget cuts will only occur with pressure from the community. The Houston Police Officer’s Union, one of the largest police unions in the U.S., maintains close ties with city council. Since last year, all but two sitting council members took a combined amount of almost $100,000 from the Houston Police Officers’ Union PAC. Among the 14 City Council members who received contributions, more than half received above $5,000 and four council members received above $10,000. Mayor Sylvester Turner also received $10,000 during his 2019 campaign.
|HOUSTON POLICE OFFICERS’ UNION PAC CONTRIBUTIONS TO SITTING CITY COUNCIL (2019-PRESENT)|
|Mike Knox (At-Large District, Position 1)||$17,500|
|Michael Kubosh (At-Large District, Position 3)||$12,500|
|Greg Travis (District G)||$11,000|
|Martha Castex-Tatum (District K)||$10,000|
|Amy Peck (District A)||$8,500|
|David Robinson (At-Large District, Position 2)||$8,500|
|Karla Cisneros (District H)||$7,500|
|Robert Gallegos (District I)||$6,000|
|Sallie Alcorn (At-Large District, Position 5)||$6,000|
|Abbie Kamin (District C)||$2,000|
|Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District D)||$2,000|
|Edward Pollard (District J)||$2,000|
|Letitia Plummer (At-Large District, Position 4)||$2,000|
|Tiffany Thomas (District F)||$1,000|
|Jerry Davis (District B)||$0|
|Dave Martin (District E)||$0|
The outsized power of HPOU is apparent in its contract with the City of Houston. The contract allows for a Labor Relations Committee that handles everything from raises to grievances and other workplace matters for officers. The LRC comprises 10 HPD officers: 5 selected by the Mayor and 5 chosen by HPOU.
One power of the LRC is to appoint 12 independent hearing examiners who oversee police misconduct issues. Six are chosen by the city, six by HPOU. HPOU can basically block any misconduct punishment of officers, because they have 50% of the votes outright. And let’s face it, the Mayor is pro-police, so there’s basically a super majority in place to block anyone holding an individual officer accountable for anything.
This has all been in place since 2015, and during that time, 41 people have been killed by police. 56 have been wounded.
Every officer was found by the board to have been justified.
Every. Single. One.
Union spokesperson and sensationalist autocrat Joe Gamaldi would likely say he supported the decisions because it is a testament to the training and courage of the officers, then would pivot over to something about how hard cops work and how people need to back off of them.
Worst of all, once a complaint has been made, the officer has 48 hours to prepare before anyone comes knocking. That is two days to get their story straight and are shielded from any tough questions until that period is up. No one else is empowered with that kind of time. Only HPD officers.
City Council Member At-Large Dr. Letitia Plummer has introduced amendments that would re-allocate $11 million of the HPD’s annual budget (or about 1%) to fund a variety of reforms including an independent police oversight board, de-escalation training, and creating a mental health mobile response unit as a police alternative. The mobile unit would respond to calls like disorderly behavior, trespassing, and suicide prevention. It is modeled after a similar program used in Eugene, Oregon, that works in tandem with local police and responds to almost a fifth of emergency calls. While far from enough, Dr. Plummer’s amendments are a step in the right direction.
If City Council follows through with the budget cut, they will stand alongside the country’s other mega-cities. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last week that he intends to cut at least $100 million from the LAPD’s intended $1.8 billion budget. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a statement demanding a $1.1 billion cut to the NYPD over the next four years. Houston defunding the police is both achievable and common sense.
Unfortunately, Mayor Turner has stated directly that he is not interested in a change in policy, instead calling for a 90 day task force and more police officers on the street. His plan is an insult: to those whose lives were lost, to protesters brutalized in Houston and around the world over the last week, and to all Houstonians.
We need your help. Call or email your City Council member ahead of the vote and tell them to vote against the increase. Search this website by zip code to find your council member then contact the Mayor, your district rep, and all five at-large reps. We have provided contact info and scripts below.
Don’t delay. The vote is coming soon and we need your help to make a difference. Delay the vote, decrease the budget for the Houston Police Department, and take steps toward progress and the end of policing as we know it.
Indivisible Houston has long pushed back against over-policing. This is a fight that needs to be continued.
- I demand the City Council and mayor to delay the vote and decrease the police department budget. There have been over 100 furloughed City of Houston employees, cuts to vital community services such as the Houston Public Library, and a substantial need to exponentially increase funding for health and human services during this COVID-19 pandemic and our taxpayer dollars are better spent other places besides the Houston Police Department.
- I demand City Council and Mayor to discontinue taxpayer funding of the Houston Police Department Officer Liability Insurance. In any other profession, employees are required to fund their own liability insurance and this should be the same for the police department. Furthermore, the community feels that this will curb instances of police brutality and officer-involved shootings of unarmed persons if liability insurance is funded from the pockets of the officers themselves.
- I implore you, as the governing body of this city, to release the body camera footage of the six recent officer-involved shootings that resulted in the deaths of Adrian Medearis, Nicolas Chavez, Christopher Aguirre, Randy Lewis, Rayshard Scales, and Joshua Johnson, all men of color.
- I insist as a taxpayer of the City of Houston for this governing body to open an outside investigation of the human rights violations currently being committed by the Houston Police Department towards protesters of continued racial injustice by police, including but not limited to being beaten with batons, run over by a police horse, pushed to the ground by police as well as, in the cases of those arrested, being kept in buses and gyms holding protesters with high heat running causing protesters to pass out, ignoring the medical concerns of those in custody, refusing food and water to those in custody, and in at least one instance, refusing menstrual hygiene products to a protester, resulting in that individual bleeding through their clothing and sitting in their own blood for eight hours.
You can also find a great resource from Houston DSA or check out our Facebook phone and email zap with scripts calling for defunding. You can also join the rally to force action at City Hall the morning of the vote, this Wednesday, 8AM-10:30AM.
Not sure who represents you?
Start here: https://fyi.capitol.texas.gov/Home.aspx
Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office
City Controller Chris Brown
Online Contact Form: https://www.houstontx.gov/controller/contact-search.html
District A Councilmember Amy Peck
District B Councilmember Jerry Davis
District C Councilmember Abbie Kamin
District D Councilmember Carolyn Evans Shabazz
District E Councilmember Dave Martin and Mayor Protem
District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas
District G Councilmember Greg Travis
District H Councilmember Karla Cisneros
District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos
District J Councilmember Edward Pollard
District K Councilmember Martha Castex-Tatum
At-Large 1 Councilmember Mike Knox
At-Large 2 Councilmember David Robinson
At-Large 3 Councilmember Michael Kubosh
At-Large 4 Councilmember Letitia Plummer
At-Large 5 Councilmember Sallie Alcorn