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Policing in the Age of Criminal Justice Reform: Fireside Chat with Art Acevedo

Art Acevedo Chief, Houston Police Department
Rafael A. Mangual Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Legal Policy, Manhattan Institute
Tue, Feb 23, 2021 EVENTCAST

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Policing in the Age of Criminal Justice Reform: Fireside Chat with Art Acevedo

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Policing in the Age of Criminal Justice Reform: Fireside Chat with Art Acevedo

Art Acevedo Chief, Houston Police Department
Rafael A. Mangual Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Legal Policy, Manhattan Institute EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Tuesday February 23
Tuesday February 23 2021
PAST EVENT Tuesday February 23 2021

In a year of anti-police protests and sentiment, jurisdictions nationwide have adopted far-reaching criminal justice reforms despite the risks posed by increased leniency in response to criminality. Houston is among those jurisdictions. In the wake of such reforms, Houston police are facing a more challenging, and more dangerous, landscape. Art Acevedo is Chief of the Houston Police Department and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and he previously served as Chief of the Austin Police Department for nearly a decade. His experience gives him unique insight into how law enforcement leaders around the country should think about policing in this new environment. What are the biggest challenges officers are facing? What do recent criminal justice reforms in Houston mean for the city’s public safety?

 

Event Transcript

Rafael Mangual:

Good afternoon, and welcome to another Manhattan Institute event casts, this one brought to you by our new policing and public safety initiative. Before we get going, as always, I want to quickly remind everyone that you should feel free to send us your questions as they come to you through the comment function of whatever platform you're watching us on. I'll do my very best to get into as many of those as I can during the discussion. As I said before, the primary aim of the Manhattan Institute's policing and public safety initiative is to have a meaningful and positive impact on criminal justice policy debates. We aim to do that in a couple of different ways. One is through intelligent creative scholarship and commentary that's rooted in empirical evidence. That's really important to us. But another way is by drawing on the experience and expertise of our nation's leading practitioners, people like Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police Department, who I'm so excited to have with us today, particularly with everything that's going on in the state of Texas.

Rafael Mangual:

Chief Acevedo is the chief of police of the Houston Police Department in South Texas, where he has served since 2016. He leads a department of 5,400 sworn law enforcement officers, and 892 civilian support personnel in the fourth largest city in the United States. Chief Acevedo has held various leadership positions with the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He's currently the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. His voice has been incredibly refreshing and important at this critical juncture in the debate about the role of police in American cities. And so with that, and because we only have a short time with the chief, I'd like to go ahead and jump right into our discussion. Chief Acevedo, thank you so much for joining us.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, thank you, Rafael. It's great to be on with you, and I look forward to the conversation.

Rafael Mangual:

Great, great. Well, I have to start with everything that's going on in Texas. I mean, we've all been watching around the country and have been just really sad for everything that the people that are going through, so I just wanted to, again, thank you for taking the time with this with everything that you have going on to do this event with us. But I wanted to get a sense from you, what, if any, are some of the unique challenges that this weather disaster has posed, particularly with the power outages, in terms of the resources available to you, the ability of the police department to impact crime? And what other new responsibilities police officers have had to take on in this time of crisis?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, Lord. Thanks for the question. Sadly, this is a very working class city. A lot of folks here that have not even recovered from Harvey or from Irma, or... I could just go down the storms. We've been impacted a lot last few years, but thankfully the sun is out, and Houstonians are doing what they do best. Our department not only had to become first responders, we're doing welfare checks. I got an email in the middle of the night from somebody in Peru, haven't heard from their 90-something year old grandmother. And seeing as we really don't sleep during these events, we were able to deploy resources to go find grandma and get her to safety.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so it was all hands on deck. Our people didn't leave, and happy to say that we only have one traffic fatality throughout the entire operational period of this freeze, which speaks to the trust that our community has in the police department and our elected officials. And they listened to the warnings, and we're proud of what we accomplished. And we fought crime in addition to doing all the stuff, in terms of responding to the crisis.

Rafael Mangual:

Well, I'm so happy to hear that. And I'm really glad that you got a chance to talk about that, because I don't think the public truly appreciates how often police are called on to be first responders to some of these crises, even when they don't necessarily fall within the obvious definition of police duty. And we all thank you and you and your officers for responding to that call. It means a lot, I know, to the people of Houston and also to the people around the country. So I want to get into the meat of our discussion today, which is really a conversation about policing in the era of criminal justice reform, and this is something that I've been covering in my work for a few years now. And one of the things that I document, that I find, is that invariably, when you hear about a really serious crime or a string of serious crimes, and you read the news stories after a suspect has been apprehended.

Rafael Mangual:

It seems like in almost every case, that suspect is going to have a lengthy criminal history that's particularly troubling, and one that prompts a lot of people to wonder, "Well, what was this person doing on the street in the first place?" Now, unfortunately over the last 15 months, a little over a year, we mentioned before the events started that a lot of the burden of repeat offenders falls on low-income communities that are kind of already vulnerable than in dealing with elevated levels of crime. But it also falls on police who are called on to deal with these elevated levels of crime. And again, over the last 15 months, three of your department's officers had been shot and killed in line of duty. And in each case, the suspect charged has had, again, just an astoundingly lengthy criminal history.

Rafael Mangual:

Just to run through a couple of these cases, Sergeant Christopher Brewster, Sergeant Sean Rios, and Harold Preston were shot and killed in Houston December 2019, October 2020, and November 2020, respectively. The man accused of killing Sergeant Brewster has five prior convictions for offenses, including burglary and assault, never received a sentence longer than a few months in a county lockup. The man accused of killing Sergeant Rios had a number of arrests dating back to 2014 for charges that include illegal firearm possession, and the man accused of killing Sergeant Preston had a record dating back to the mid 1990s that included serious charges involving firearms possession, assault, et cetera. I've heard a lot of officers in other departments express frustration with seeing the system put people that they've arrested on multiple occasions back on the street with a little more than a slap on the wrist. And so my first question to you is, is there a deeper hit to the department's morale when giving an offender a fourth or fifth or sixth chance results in the loss of an officer?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, I think the answer to that is absolutely, there's a hit to morale. Our officers are operating at a time when the communities are expecting them to be more professional, to be respectful of the Constitution and people's rights, and they're under more scrutiny than ever. I mean, everyone's being taped, and that's all good stuff. We want good policing, and we want to uncover bad officers so we can get them out of the department. But when officers are risking their lives... I mean, here in Houston, we engage in a lot of pursuits in our city, unfortunately. We're probably second to Los Angeles in terms of the pursuits of these violent criminals. And when they engage in pursuits, we're putting the suspects in danger, the officer in danger, the communities in danger, but we still chase depending on the circumstances, because a policy to not pursue is an invitation to chaos.

Chief Art Acevedo:

But when they arrest hardcore criminals, individuals with a history of violence and convictions for violence that are off out on bond after bond after bond, and know for a fact that we have turned... Our criminal justice system is turning into quickly turning into a laughingstock, and criminals are just looking at our cops saying, "You know I'm going to be right out in just a matter of hours." It does impact morale, and I think that we have to be careful that police don't de-police. Luckily, for our department and most departments, cops are wired that no matter how frustrated they may get, no matter how angry they may get, no matter how discouraged they may get, they're just not wired to not try to get bad people off the streets before they hurt someone.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so it has impacted morale and will continue to impact morale, but above all else, we can recover from morale. But people that are the victims of violent crime, whether either losing their life or their limb or their ability to walk, they don't get that back. And so we owe it to the community, not just to our officers, to make sure we start addressing what's going on across the country in most jurisdictions.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah. So again, you mentioned across the country, a lot of cities around America had seen a really troubling spike in homicides and shootings in particular. And of course, Houston has not been an exception to that rule. The city saw homicide spike 42% last year, reaching, I think, its highest murder total in 10 years. What we see in these cases involving repeat offenders, is that, do you think, driving some part of this increase? Or I guess the question would be, what would you say, based on what you're seeing on the street, is behind a good chunk of that spike?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, I can tell you what's behind it. A big part of it is activist judges and activist district attorneys across the country that don't understand that criminal justice has to be fair, it has to be timely, it has to be certain, and it has to start with a victim approach. What's best for the victim in terms of the victims of crime? And what we've got is judges that think it's okay to give a person... It wasn't a crime of passion, and a verbal altercation or something, or something that a person who's never been involved in crime. It's not only murder suspects, but murder suspects with a history of committing and being convicted of violent offenses being arrested again, time after time, given either low bond or personal bond, and even giving people with those kinds of histories bond on murder charges.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And I don't mean $100,000 or $200,000 or high bond. I'm talking about $300 bonds, personal bonds. It is outrageous that we have people dying across this nation as we speak, more than 2000 additional Americans. This is my Major Cities Chiefs report that we put... Our violent crime report. Our homicides went from 6,087 in '19 to 8,077 in '20. And our partners here at Crimestoppers Houston took a look at some of our murders, and about 90 of them, the people were out on bond.

Rafael Mangual:

Wow.

Chief Art Acevedo:

It's outrageous, and I think that the American people aren't paying attention because of COVID. They're a little distracted. But when the American people start figuring out what's going on, there will be a backlash, and it will be swift.

Rafael Mangual:

So tell us a little bit more about the bond issue in Houston. So my understanding is this is an initiative that's been sort of driven by the courts there, where they have sort of instituted their own bail reform, much like what Chicago did through Chief Judge Timothy Evans in that city. Bail reform is something I've written about quite a bit. My basic take is that there are some obvious critiques to the cash bail system insofar as you could end up with a system in which, say, a dangerous but well-off defendant gets to buy his freedom while a sort of poor but harmless defendant stuck behind bars. And the way I've always approached this is to say we should sort of reorient the inquiry at the release hearing around safety risk, and encourage judges to hold people who pose a high risk to the community and to release those who pose a low risk. How is what's going on in Houston sort of different from that?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, here's what's happened in Houston. In Harris County, there was litigation. There's a group of lawyers that are going around the country, initiating lawsuits against jurisdictions. And so there was a misdemeanor bail litigation, and there was an agreement that dealt with non-violent offenses, where again, people that were similarly situated in terms of the crime they committed, maybe even criminal history, were being treated differently based on what you just said, their ability to pay. And I don't have a problem with that. I think that to me, what we need to be thinking about is risk, risk to public safety, risk of re-offending, and risk of flight. That's how we should make our decision, so I agree with that. The problem is that a lot of these folks aren't really interested in anything other than seeing everybody pre-conviction running around free.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And when you apply that mindset to people that are committing violent offenses... It isn't a piece of property being stolen. It's not shoplifting. It's not breaking into somebody's car and taking a backpack. It's life and limb that we're dealing with. It is sexual assault, it is murderers, it's aggravated assaults. They're using that same philosophy. And I can tell you, people that say they're progressive, and I don't think they understand. I grew up in California as a cop, and that's the land with three strikes that still exist to this day. So being progressive doesn't mean being reckless. Being progressive doesn't mean that you put the community at risk. Being progressive means that you look for fairness and justice. And justice, again, means that yeah, you know what? It should be about risk.

Chief Art Acevedo:

So what's happened now is that our judiciary, many of our magistrates and judges, are now treating violent criminals with the history of convictions for violence. And they're not just giving them one bond for a violent crime, low bond or personal bond. They're getting two, three, four, five, six, seven. It is an outrage. And sadly, one of the only people talking about it wearing a uniform in this region is this guy. So you can imagine what that does to those that would say... And I had a debate on... I can't remember the lawyer's name, but he was a lawyer of record here on the lawsuit.

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:15:04]

Chief Art Acevedo:

I can't remember the lawyer's name, but he was a lawyer of record here in the lawsuit. He's from Washington and it's escaping me right now. Haven't slept in a while. And all they talked about is under the constitution you have a right ... You have a presumption of innocence. So that is their theory. So I asked him in this debate that was on Laura Arnold's podcast, the Arnold Foundation. I'm not sure this made it onto the podcast. I'll tweet it out later in case your listeners want to hear it. But I asked, "Okay. All right, so great. Okay. Presumption of innocence. So I guess that you would support the fact that the Constitution also talks about the right to a speedy trial, right?"

Chief Art Acevedo:

But here's the other piece that's happening. On top of putting everybody out on personal bond and low bonds, nobody's going to trial. We have close to 50,000 charged felons, about 1500 murderers that are going two, three, four, five years without resolution. And so I asked him, "Are you willing to invest in more prosecutors, more courtrooms and judges, and even more public defenders to get the wheels of justice turning?" Because imagine, from the progressive mindset, how are you supposed to get a job when you have a murder ... and you're innocent, right? When you have a murder rap that's held over your head.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Then on top of that, what this is doing, it's impacting our ability to solve crime. Because if you're a person is living in this high crime neighborhood, or you're living in a complex, an apartment complex, are you really going to point the finger at a hardcore gang member, that's going to go in one door out the other, oh, and then they're going to have three to five years to try to get rid of the witness? It's a perfect storm, not just here in Houston and Harris County, but I can tell you it's happening in Austin and Dallas, San Antonio and Los Angeles and New York, across the country. And the American people, when they wake up, there is going to be a backlash.

Rafael Mangual:

You know, it's such a good point that you make about the funding issue. And it's one that I raised in a recent report that I did for the Manhattan Institute on Bail Reform. It was the one of three recommendations I made. Because one of the reasons that we talk about bail reform, one of the reasons it's gotten so much public attention, really is because of the amount of time that offenders stand to spend in pretrial detention. If they were only going to spend a short period of time in pretrial detention, the onus to address this issue just wouldn't be as strong. And I really just think that's such an astute point to make because our criminal justice system, contrary to popular belief, is quite underfunded. When you consider the number of cases going through the system, and you compare that to the number of prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, it really does pose a problem.

Rafael Mangual:

And interestingly, when the state of New Jersey did their bail reform, they actually had a section in the legislation that added 20 new magistrate judges to the court in order to deal with the added cases and speed this up, because they also attached a speedy trial provision to that legislation, which I think is a much smarter way to go about it. Obviously, you talked about the bail reform, but when we see cases involving offenders who have 15, 20 prior arrests, you start to wonder, well, it looks to me like the police are doing their job, right? I mean, this person's being picked up. Obviously the police are paying attention to them. It seems to be a good idea. So the question then becomes, well, maybe it's other parts of the criminal justice system that are not working with the police in the right way to hold these suspects accountable.

Rafael Mangual:

So we've talked about the bail reform aspect, but one of the other things that's gotten a lot of attention recently is what's known as the progressive prosecutor movement. A lot of cities around the country have elected the so-called progressive prosecutors to the point where now 40 million Americans are living in jurisdictions with progressive prosecutors. And Houston is one of these jurisdictions. And so you've got Kim Ogg, who took office in 2017, I believe, who is one of the prosecutors who ran on a platform of reform, which is sort of counter-intuitive when you think about the traditional role of a prosecutor, which has always been as a crime fighter. So my question is, do you think that the progressive prosecutor movement risks creating division between two institutions, I'm talking about prosecutors and police now, that were long understood as sort of jointly pursuing the same mission?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, let me start off with Kim Ogg. Kim Ogg is actually ... We don't agree on everything, but we have more points of agreement than we have disagreements. And to be honest, she did run on a progressive platform. But when you look at what she's doing, she wasn't progressive enough for the Soros-funded crowd out there that are very, very strategic in what they're doing. And so they actually ran a candidate funded to the left of her. Thank God that she got reelected, because more often than not, she is doing a good job of focusing on the violent offenders and she's sharing our frustrations. And she's actually having to take the judges to court because the judges aren't following the law.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so she's not a good example. I think she's really come more towards the center. We're very similar in terms of, let's hammer people that we should be afraid of because they're dangerous to our wellbeing, not necessarily people that we're mad at because they're out smoking dope or something, right? Let's be smart on crime. But what's happened around the country is that we have DA's that ... They're not just following the law. They're just making decisions on what they are or are not going to do. It's like, police get beat up all the time because we make an arrest and they don't realize we don't make the laws. Right? If it's a law that's not consistent with the expectations or priorities of the community, then legislators need to change the law.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so what's happens, we have these DAs that quite frankly are coddling violent criminals. I mean, look at Larry over there in Philadelphia. I call him Larry because ... And she's hard to take seriously. Their violent crime is through the roof. We actually had a meeting about a year ago, a year and a half ago, before COVID, with the DA in Chicago, Miami, Houston, Harris County, Philadelphia, New York City. I think Cy Vance was there. Jackie was there from ... who just lost in LA to Guzman, San Francisco. And when I left there, I'm going to tell you, it's less about points of reference. I got to listen and see where Kim is at compared to these other DAs, some of these others DAs. And it's a huge problem because ... I'm not sure what the end game is, because chaos is not what the American people want. Not only are they wrong on the policy in terms of public safety, they're wrong on the politics.

Chief Art Acevedo:

You know what breaks my heart? These elected officials, these elected DA's across the country, they're not the ones going to the scenes. You know who's going to the scenes when they get the call on the young child, like Sir Romeo here in Houston, little boy in his grandmother's apartment, second floor, gets shot by a stray bullet of some idiot that's a documented, hardcore criminal gang member with all kinds of violations and other children end up getting shot with these bullets, these stray bullets? They're not the ones going to the scene, comforting parents, comforting families. It's the police chiefs and the police officers.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And I can tell you that what breaks my heart is that the community they think that they're helping, the communities of color that disproportionately has been impacted by the economics of this country and some of the other issues that have impacted disproportionately communities of color, including poor white communities that we talked about when we talked about ... A lot of poor white people out there and nobody talks about them. And sadly, these are the communities that we come up there. I promise you, they're not only wrong on the policy. They're wrong on the politics.

Chief Art Acevedo:

I've got so many people who have come up to me in these neighborhoods saying, "Thank you for standing up for us." As soon as we get past COVID and the American people end up paying attention to what's going on and see what's going on, there will be a backlash. And what bothers me is that legitimate reform that we still need to do in terms of ... I don't know about you all, but when I arrest a guy because he had a rock in his pocket and he's coming home from work in his uniform, I'm not sure what I'm doing in terms of public safety, right? That guy should get a summons to go to treatment somewhere, counseling somewhere. Jail should be for people that are robbing, shooting, stealing, and those things. Not someone that's hurting themselves. Jail should be for people that are hurting others, not themselves. And so those kinds of reforms are still haven't been done are going to go by the wayside because of the overreach of the extreme left.

Rafael Mangual:

No, that's a really good point, right? I mean, I think everyone in this debate would agree that the criminal justice system isn't perfect and that there is room for reform, even if only at the margins in some places. One of the goals pursued by a lot of the criminal justice reform movement, including the progressive prosecutor movement, has been sort of large-scale decarceration. We hear a lot about this mass incarceration problem that the United States is suffering from. And Texas has kind of been held up as a leader in this space insofar as, over 2020, the prison population in the state of Texas declined by 15% around there, it was more than 20,000 prisoners on net. At first, it was thought that this was because there was just an influx of people being held in jail because cases weren't being processed during COVID. Subsequent analysis have shown that that actually only accounts for a very small slice of the decline, only about 1500 people.

Rafael Mangual:

Prison is usually reserved for people who were convicted of more serious offenses who have more troubling criminal histories. Do you think that there is a mass incarceration problem in the state of Texas? Do you think that the really sharp decline ... I mean, 15% in one year is sharp, I think, by any standard. Do you think that that has played a role in some of the deterioration in public safety in the state?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, I think that part of it has been early releases because of COVID, a lot of humanitarian releases. And I think that the releases are not as troubling in some cases as others, because some of the people that were released needed to be released, and some of the people who were released didn't need to be released, and quite frankly, went back to offending. What we're not touched about as recidivism is starting to go in the wrong direction, because we're letting people out early that shouldn't be out in the first place. But there's something that went through my mind that we didn't address, that I don't think people are talking about, and that is these activist judges that are kicking cases with ...

Chief Art Acevedo:

Let me explain to you, here in Houston, we don't make an arrest of ... We call a DA, what's called the DA intake, our patrol officers, and they run the facts of the case by the DA. And so we already have a prosecutorial review before we even arrest somebody. They make sure we have probable cause and make sure it's the appropriate charges. Here's what's happening with a lot of these activist judges. The no probable cause rulings on the onset of the first review, through the roof. We review the case, not only is there no probable cause, there's everything that ... We've got a case built. So the manpower and the personnel hours are going into trying to get these cases because these judges are not following the law is going through the roof.

Chief Art Acevedo:

The other piece on the prosecutorial side that I think is really important is think about this for a minute. We've got criminals that are ... I mean, this is their profession, right? They're robbery crews, they're burglary crews, they're drug trafficking organizations. So we can tie somebody to 20 robberies in many places in this country right now. 20 armed robberies. And maybe those 20 armed robberies that we can prove they committed, they committed three aggravated assaults. Guess what they ended up being charged with? One count of our aggravated assault. And then the judge will say ... the progressive judge or the activist judge, "Oh, it's just one count. What's the big deal?" So people need to be charged for what we can prove, and then they can worry about it later on. But that's going on.

Chief Art Acevedo:

So let me just throw this out there that somebody said, what can we do on the chat box here that I'm seeing. That's why I put my glasses on. We need the demand transparency in the criminal justice system. It is a system. Police officers, everything we do is either on body-worn camera, somebody's cell phone, or somebody's CCW out there, right? CTV, excuse me. So we're transparent. Our data, our racial profile, our use of force. We're providing all this information to the community. Well, if we really want to understand what's going on, the American people need to demand transparency by the prosecutors and by the courts to see what's going on with the decisions they're making. Because right now, let me tell you what courts are doing, they're hiding the ball. They're constantly hiding the ball. So we in law enforcement and our partners like the Crimestoppers across the country, can't point out what they're doing in terms of putting the public at risk.

Rafael Mangual:

Well, I can certainly tell you as someone who researches in this space, I mean, I would love nothing more than to be able to say, for example, this percentage of homicides in a given year is committed by people out on parole or probation or bail. It's incredibly hard to get that data. And I think you're exactly right, that there is a lack of transparency in a lot of parts of the criminal justice system that that needs to be addressed. We've talked a lot about violence here, and I want to switch gears a little bit because, of course, that's not the only thing that police are dealing with. If one of the things that I've read recently about the City of Houston is that it's had a problem with these so-called street takeovers, these situations in which you get almost like the movie Fast and the Furious-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:30:04]

Rafael Mangual:

... These situations in which you get almost like the movie Fast and the Furious. They close off the street for car races and it may seem like good and fun to some people from a distance, but it creates inconveniences. But also, it creates spaces in which we've seen violent crime spur up. There've been shootings at some of these things. How important is it for departments to pay attention to this kind of disorder and how related are those instances of disorder to more serious crime?

Chief Art Acevedo:

It's very important. It's important to our community, it's important to our collective safety, and it's important to having a sense of order in a city instead of chaos. As you know, thanks to the Fast and Furious franchise, I think I was 10 when they started and I'm old, people think that that's okay. And unfortunately, a lot of gang type activity goes on. We've had a shooting here in one of these takeovers. Just this weekend in Harris County in the Sheriff's jurisdiction, two people were killed when one of those vehicles being driven lost control and killed people in the crowd. And so we've actually put a taskforce together. We cannot allow people to act with impunity on our freeways, on our streets, because it really has a tremendous impact on the collective psyche and the security of the people that we serve. And what's happened is in a lot of jurisdictions because of COVID, they weren't letting police departments book people for misdemeanors.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And a lot of the crimes that are committed are misdemeanors. And so ours was going out of control. And we have a contractor at the joint processing center with our Sheriff's department. I finally had to say, "Hey, city's paying you millions of dollars to provide a service and you're not providing it. And it's time that you start providing it." So we actually have a task force that works on these issues, straight takeovers, the races for the takeovers, the aggressive driving, and the anger of people on the streets that are cutting people off. And then we have a lot of shootings on our freeway, and guess when they're happening?

Chief Art Acevedo:

They're happening during rush hour, between 3:00 and 7:00 PM. And we've had people shot because of this type of activity. So it's very important, it's one of our priorities for this year. I can tell you it's a priority for our mayor. It does not make him happy when he sees on social media these takeovers, and we're actually using every tool at our disposal, including monitoring social media, undercover officers in plain wrapped vehicles, patrol, traffic enforcement to combat it. It's a huge problem here, I think it's a huge problem in most big cities. And I was talking about road rages. A lot of road rage incidents.

Rafael Mangual:

Right, yeah. And so obviously there are also other, I don't want to say less visible, but less brazen types of disorder that we see in city life. And police have traditionally, at least since the '90s and the proactive policing revolution, been seen as one of the primary responders to that. In part, because that is a way to respect the desires of the community who actually do want this stuff policed. I'm talking about people drinking in public, littering, graffiti.

Rafael Mangual:

But at the same time, we're in the middle of a moment in our country in which a lot of very loud voices are calling for police to trim their role, to pull back from this kind of enforcement, and are really doing their best to raise the transaction costs for police who do that. Whether by getting in their face with cameras, protesting, that kind of thing. And in 2014 and '15, we saw this term the Ferguson effect get coined and come up. Have you seen a Minneapolis effect this year, where officers are maybe a bit more squirrely or squeamish about getting out of their cars and being proactive when it comes to the less brazen forms of disorder and misdemeanor commission?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, I think that I've had my partners, my fellow chiefs across the country, talk about that impact. And I'm sure that in every department, there are going to be officers that are impacted, their psyches impacted by what's going on. And so I think it's a matter of, for most departments, just trying to continue to win the hearts and minds of your own men and women, making them understand that everything works in cycles and the pendulum's constantly swinging and this too shall pass. I always tell them with the court of public opinion matters to everything we do in terms of the way they're going to be treated by a grand jury after a critical incident or believed by a regular jury in a civil or criminal trial in terms of their pay, their benefits, their equipment, their staffing, all those things.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so that's why I'm always talking about relational policing to them. And I can just tell you that while it has impacted departments because chiefs have been very open about it, I would like to think that for us and most departments, most of the officers, again, because of the way we're wired, that on a subconscious level, we may find ourselves de policing a little bit, but it takes about a few days of that. They realized, "This is not what I signed up for," and men and women get on the saddle and get back to work. So it's important though, for our communities, that... I coined a phrase the community of 10 when I was in Austin for about nine and a half years, because it was the same 10 people that would show up at city hall.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And they would say, "The community this," about the police department and, "The community that," and it was the same 10 people. But you'd be surprised how many times elected officials would think that the 10 people represented the close to a million people back when I was there. And then I started looking at how some of those community members were, they didn't even live in my city. They didn't even live in Austin. They were activists from towns, North, South, East, West. So I'm very fortunate that I live in a city where our mayor and the city council are very much in tune with this community. America's fourth largest, soon to be third largest city. And you don't hear any talk about de policing here. You don't hear any talk about defunding. What you hear it talk about here in this city is better policing, which everybody deserves and demands and deserves, and appropriate policing.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And rather than de policing, de funding with this city, within minority, majority population, police by minority, majority police department, and served by an elected body of officials that are minority, majority, they knew that our community, if I try to shut down a storefront or if I go into my highest crime communities neighborhoods and say, "Hey, I want to take out 10 officers from patrolling here," they will eat my lunch. And so we're very fortunate that when that's going on in other cities, in our city, our mayor, our council unanimously voted to fund our five cadet classes, academy classes that were going to be canceled because of COVID. We were able to use some of The CARES Act funding to restore those classes. And so I just hope that people are smart and think about the consequences, and then to invest in programs that are not even evidence-based.

Chief Art Acevedo:

They're just, "Let's take money from here just so we can make people happy, think we're doing something differently." Well, we need to be thoughtful about those processes and those systems. What's happened here, I'll give you one last example and I'll open it back up to you is, what happens is we don't do a very good job in policing, and the media doesn't either. We had one incident, and I'll give you an example, where a young man by the name of Nicolas Chavez was in distress, emotional distress, got high, earned himself the rebarb. And make a long story short, some of our folks shot and killed him, did not handle the call the way that they should have handled it, the way they were trained to handle it, the way they're expected to handle it, and he lost his life. Well, that obviously made the news here and the community was in an uproar.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, that failure was the focus of the community. And I agree, it's something they should focus on. But we should not lose sight that we handle 50,000 people in crisis a year in our city. And the very, very, very, very, very vast majority with our frontline officers and then our co response unit, there's a mental health officer and a practitioner, we don't have anything else that went that bad. Does that make sense to you? So I think part of the thing that we have to have in part of this conversation is make sure that we're fixing what's really broken and not trying to just achieve perfection, because you're not going to achieve perfection. And if you're not careful, you're going to get rid of systems and processes that are actually effective and replace them with something that is unproven. So we just got to be real thoughtful as we move forward in this conversation.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, no, I think that's actually a really important point. Something that I've written about in my critiques of the police reform movement, not even really a critique, it's just something that I think has to temper expectations with people, I don't think truly appreciate is how rare even deadly uses of force are, let alone deadly uses of force that are unjustifiable or reflect some kind of failure with respect to training and that sort of thing. And the idea that we can zero those out without a really troubling kind of trade-off, I think is a bit misguiding. So I'm glad you made that point.

Rafael Mangual:

One of the questions that just came in from our audience and one of the things that came to my mind as you were speaking with regard to the academy class is this issue of recruitment. A lot of police departments around the country have been experiencing a ton of trouble both recruiting and retaining officers. We've seen here in New York, a flood of early retirements or retirements earlier than what would normally be expected. A lot of this has been painted as a response to the anti-police climate. Is that something that you guys are experiencing in Houston?

Chief Art Acevedo:

I think they're a little higher than normal, but it's definitely not a flood of retirements. It's interesting that I think that a lot of our old timers here take a great pride in being old timers. I can't believe how many people we have in this department that served for 35, 40 years, and they're out on patrol. They take great pride in that. And what's interesting is that we had a real bad incident here involving a search warrant that went really bad and we ended up having to charge an officer. And I met with the narcotics division and some of the guys that were going to retire said, "I was thinking about retiring, but instead of retiring, I wouldn't feel right leaving right now. We got to get the ship upright. We got to get it heading in the right direction."

Chief Art Acevedo:

So I think there's some of that going on, but there's also people that don't want to leave on a low note, they want to leave on a high note. And so I think that for everyone that we have leaving early, which is happening, we also have those that were going to leave that have decided that adversity brings an opportunity. I always say that adversity brings an opportunity for us to do better as individuals, as a unit, as an organization, hopefully as a society. And so I think it's had an impact on both sides of that equation, but we're seeing a little higher retirement rate, but not in droves like in other places. But then again, this is Houston. We have a wonderful relationship with our community. It's not perfect, but which relationship is? And think about Houston during the summer of protests, I think we fared much better than most cities.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Think about us during Harvey, where this doesn't turn into Katrina. You didn't see widespread looting or any of that stuff here, that's because this is a real... My little boy told me the other day on Saturday, I made him go to work with me. And he says, "Hey dad, I love living here," as we were driving and saw the skyline. I go, "Well, why is that Jake?" We've only been here four years. He's 12, going to be 13. He goes, "Because you got to have grit. You have to have grit to live in Houston." And so when we say we're Houston strong to some places that may be just a slogan. But here, it really is. When we were marching this summer, we were out in the streets with our protesters, family members of our officers were out marching demanding better policing. And let's face it, what happened to George Floyd, which is outrageous. And again, this is a special place. I think that the secret is out and people are starting to move here in large numbers.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, so I'm going to get to another question from our audience because we've only got about 15 minutes left. And Diane asks, "You mentioned that some 90 murder suspects who were released pending trial went on to commit more crimes." I actually think you said homicide specifically, but I may be wrong. Her question is, "Has there been any response from the judiciary, particularly from the judges who have let these criminals loose, and is there a mechanism to hold these judges accountable for putting the public in danger in that way?"

Chief Art Acevedo:

Can you repeat that question, I just got a text.

Rafael Mangual:

Sure, yeah. The question is with respect to the judges who have— 

Chief Art Acevedo:

Who hold them accountable?

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, what mechanisms are available to the public?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, first of all the public needs of demand, I think, that when it comes to criminal justice, if justice is supposed to be blind, I don't believe there should be partisan races because too many people just go straight party ticket, don't even know who they're voting for. So whether that's a DA, a sheriff, elected sheriff or judges, I wish they would all be nonpartisan. The second piece is we've got to bring transparency, again, into what's going on in the courtrooms. Nobody knows what the judges do. They don't know what their decisions are. And so I-

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:45:04]

Chief Art Acevedo:

They just do. They don't know what the decisions are. And so I would encourage communities ... And by the way, I've had good judges that are Democrats, bad judges that are Democrats. I've had good judges that are Republicans, bad judges that are Republicans. Because sometimes the extremes on both ends are so extreme that they may have different motivations, but in terms of their policy decisions, they have the same impact in terms of the community. But I would encourage people to actually put together PACs specifically to deal with judicial races and for any of the law enforcement groups to put together PACs, for the victim groups to put together PACs, and start asking these judges to actually come out and answer questions before they get endorsements and/or any money. Because in a lot of places like Texas, judges are elected. They're not appointed like in other places.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And so we have to start paying attention to what's going on in the courtroom. And also reach out to like your local Crime Stoppers to figure out who are the judges that are putting people at risk and who aren't putting people at risk. And lastly, we need to figure out how our legislators, whether it's federal or state, can come up with laws to bring some transparency to what's going on in the courtroom. Somebody was asking about whether we track this probable cause. These judges are kicking them off, and we are. I've been trying to meet with the judges for two years here, and they haven't met yet. So we'll see. I'm not going to stop talking about it. But we've got to pay attention.

Rafael Mangual:

I think that's a really important point. And of course as important as it is to hold the judiciary accountable, of course, police are also, they enjoy an enormous amount of power and ought to be held accountable by the public. And so my question is, as a big city chief, as someone who's been on the beat himself, I mean, what do you see as your role in rooting out the bad apples within the department and addressing oftentimes the legitimate concerns that the public has surrounding events that go wrong?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, here's the problem. We have about 800,000 police officers serving 18,000 departments across the country. We're a very decentralized policing system in our country, which makes us very inefficient and very ineffective. I believe in consolidation of government, and that's a topic for another day. And so the problem with American policing really isn't the cops. I mean, look, this is the best trained, best educated, most professional generation of cops in modern history. They're under more scrutiny than any other generation, with 300 and something million of these, if not more, and everything else we talked about. The problem with American policing is leadership, where the American people recognize bad policing when they see it. And we've heard this term time and again, lawful but awful. The use of deadly force was lawful, but awful. Well, whether it's lawful or not, if it was that awful, why are we letting that person stay being a cop?

Chief Art Acevedo:

If a person completely abandons their training or abandons policy or disregards what they've been taught and trained to do, and somebody dies, why are we tolerating it? Why are we allowing it? And so I think that the police chief's role is to call balls and strikes. And like I tell my team, I'm not here to run for prom king. I remember when I was police chief in Austin, I was there for almost a decade. We had a young man by the name of David Joseph Jr., a 17-year-old African-American young man, mental issues, was standing naked in the middle of the street one morning, broad daylight in the morning, low crime neighborhood. And the officer by the name of Jeffrey Freeman, I can talk about this. This is all public record. It's out there. Gets out for a naked 17-year-old and you know, let's face it. That's the prime of your life. You're in pretty good shape. But for a naked unarmed person with his gun in his hand. Okay.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, he gets his attention in a matter of seconds. He runs full speed at the officer. And what do you think happened when that young man ran towards Jeff, when he got to about 10, 15 feet? Boom, boom, shoots him twice, kills him. I've got a problem with that. I mean, if you're that afraid, you shouldn't be a cop. I mean, if you can't go hands on, you shouldn't be a cop. So I fired him. Well, the problem is in a lot of departments, that officer wouldn't have been fired. Well, the guy might've been high on drugs, the guy this, the guy that. And people recognize bad policing when they see it.

Chief Art Acevedo:

My union did a votable conference. My response to them was, "I'm not here to run for prom king. I'm here to lead." And when you get it right, I want to support you regardless of the winds of public opinion, but when you get it wrong, I'm going to hold you accountable. And I asked my team when I went to every roll call around the city, a 30, 90 minute roll calls, we brought people in together, and I would ask them, how many of you have kids? A lot of them raised their hands. Imagine your kid, a straight A student goes to college and somebody slips him a mickey or something and they end up naked in the middle of the street, acting the fool, and a police officer double taps them without a scratch on that officer. How angry would you be?

Rafael Mangual:

I think that's a-

Chief Art Acevedo:

Yeah, go ahead.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, no, I think actually, it's a little bit of speculation on my part, but I suspect that a lot of members of the general public would be surprised to hear you say what you just said. I think that there is a sense in the United States right now that police defend other cops at all cost, that there is no desire to hold police officers accountable, and that it rarely happens. How do you account for that incongruity between perception and reality, to the extent it exists?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, part of the challenge is that in a lot of states, they are not sunshine laws. So when officers are being held accountable and being taken to task, it doesn't really make it into the public. People don't know what the accountability piece was. In California under Copley versus San Diego, which is an old state Supreme Court case, you wouldn't be able to tell anybody about personnel actions. And I think that really hurts the public trust because in our department and most departments, there's a lot of internal things that are going on. Our body worn camera system that the public spent a lot of their hard earned tax dollars buying, we require audits of those body worn cameras. And we are finding misconduct and holding people accountable, including firing people without a complaint. Nobody ever complained.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Because maybe the person didn't trust the police to do anything. And I hate it when that happens, because the bad cop wins when the complaint doesn't come in. And people don't realize that we actually do initiate a lot of things internally across the country. So I think the way we overcome that is to actually make sure that the community knows exactly what you are doing. Try to add transparency to your internal investigations and report out what your findings are. And one of the things that we're trying to create here now is to report on the audits that we do and what their findings are. And even in places where you can't release the officer's name, at least release the finding, release the facts, release enough information where people know that officers are being held accountable. I think that would go a long way in helping to build trust across the country.

Rafael Mangual:

I want to get to a couple more questions for the audience, to the extent there's time here. So we've got a question from Gary, who has a question about the reform movement. He wants to know whether chiefs are trying to quantify calls for service and other metrics that can be handled better by other state entities. He's thinking maybe mental health professionals, et cetera, and perhaps consider getting rid of those responsibilities, or shifting those responsibilities from the police department, which could potentially have the added benefit of budget savings. Is that something that you're thinking about?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Yeah. Those conversations are going on across the country. Here's the challenge. It's hard to find the mental health practitioners that want to work shift work out on the streets, in the rain, in the snow, in the ice 24/7, weekends and holidays. So one of the things that I've been recommending to members of Congress as they talk about police reform that we do need to do, there's still a lot of room for improvement. Let's be real clear. We want to always do better. And there's still a lot of room for improvement. Is that, remember the CSI movies and programs, there was CSI Miami, New York, LA, and Vegas. Now kids want to grow up to be forensic scientists and crime scene investigators. We need to create a buzz in terms of a field for mental health professionals to actually be out in the streets and maybe create a program where college tuition forgiveness for those that get their master's degrees in psychology or in social work that can actually handle these calls.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Because our teams that we have here, we have I think about a dozen teams. How many?

Chief Art Acevedo:

About a dozen co-response teams, but that's for 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. They can't handle nearly enough of the volume. And so we're trying to get more practitioners, but we can't find them. They're just not interested. So yeah, the long answer to that is yes, absolutely we're looking at that, but I think a lot of places you're going to find that it's hard to have takers and we need to get creative as to how we create the incentive for people to get in that field.

Rafael Mangual:

Thank you. I know we've only got a couple minutes left, so I want to do a little bit of a lightning round here and ask you what would be your top one or two police reforms that ought to be pursued. And on the other side of the ledger, what would be the top one or two police or criminal justice reforms that you think ought to be rejected that have become popular proposals in recent years?

Chief Art Acevedo:

Well, I think that the thought that in 2020 we stopped police departments that were trained to put your knee on somebody's neck, like in the George Floyd incident, I think that's problematic. So we need to look at a reform that outside of a life and death situation, officers should not be authorized to manipulate the neck. We saw the Eric Garner incident, we saw George Floyd. It's just, unless you're in a fight for your life on a one-on-one situation, that's probably something that should be prohibited. I think another thing that's really important is to have a database on officers that get fired, so we don't have these officers that go from department to department to department after they're fired, and then that creates a whole new set of problems. Those two would be very helpful.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And I would encourage folks to go to the major City Chiefs Association. We actually have a document on there that'll give you an outline of some of the recommendations of our organizations that extend to large departments in the country and the nine largest in Canada. One of the things that I would hate to see is the hijacking of misdemeanor bail reform turn into felony bail reform and seeing people that pose a danger going in one door and out the other time and again, and victimizing people in this country. People being hurt, people being killed by people that really should've been held pending trial and conviction. I think that's the biggest one. Bail should be based on a risk assessment, not about money. It should be about a risk assessment in terms of risk of public safety, risk of re-offending and risk of flight. Those are the three things that we should consider, not necessarily someone's ability to pay.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And lastly, I would like to see those that continue to not invest by design in a properly funded and staffed criminal justice system that's making the wheels of justice grind to a halt. I hope that we move away from that, because justice delayed is denied and if justice is denied to an innocent person that may be wrongfully accused, it's denied to the victim and it's denied to the greater society that we serve.

Rafael Mangual:

Chief Acevedo, thank you so very much for taking the time. Again, we know that you and your officers have so much on their plates. We wish you all the best of luck in dealing with this crisis. And again, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us today.

Chief Art Acevedo:

And remember, we are hiring at the Houston Police Department, so check us out.

Rafael Mangual:

All right. Thank you so much.

Chief Art Acevedo:

Take care, guys.

Rafael Mangual:

Bye now.

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [00:59:13]

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