Houston Mayor John Whitmire has announced the names of individuals staffing an independent review committee that will operate alongside the police department as they review the 264,000 incident reports that were closed using a code indicating there was not enough personnel to investigate. 

“Criminal justice is a system. Any component of it that is broken affects the entire system. We have discovered a terribly broken component in our local criminal justice system,” said Whitmire.

He also said he believes this incident has manipulated the city’s crime rate reporting, and he believes previous statements about the city’s crime rate going down were “spin.” This echoes a similar statement from Police Chief Troy Finner, who the night before said the only crime rate he was confident in is homicide because “there’s a body,” but indicated he does not have faith in the statistics for other types of crime.

The new committee will be chaired by former City Council Member Ellen Cohen. Cohen, a Democrat, was Mayor Pro Tem during Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first term. 

Other members of the committee include:

  • Captain Jeff Owles, a Texas Ranger with 21 years in law enforcement.
  • Christina Nowak, Deputy Inspector General of the Office of Policing Reform and Accountability for the City of Houston.
  • Arturo Michel, the current City Attorney.
  • Rev. Leon Preston, pastor of Yale Street Baptist church.

“I’ve asked them to collect the data, review HPD, look over their shoulder, make certain that the process is transparent, [and] report back to me. I will report to Houstonians, and we will let them know exactly when, where, and who had access to this suspension going back to 2016 when it first appeared.”

“I want the panel to find out how in the world this existed for eight years without someone having the good sense of sounding the alarm,” he said.

Cohen said they have already started working and will have a meeting next Wednesday to begin to lay out goals as well as set future meeting dates.”

Whitmire said the purpose of the committee is to report to him, letting him know if the overall review is being conducted to the fullest extent and as accurately as possible. He said he didn’t just want HPD reporting to him, he wanted an outside panel’s perspective as well.

The panel will observe HPD as well as collect their own data to review. 

“I’m going to [be] addressing in future months the necessity of getting HPD and Houston Fire the necessary resources to have a public safety system that is fully prepared to meet any encounter…We have fewer officers than we had 25 years ago, and if this doesn’t demonstrate the impact that has on the rank and file then nothing else will,” Whitmire said. 

Whitmire said the committee will not have public meetings but instead will meet in private; although, he said there will be public discussions about what they uncover. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.