Greater Houston Coalition of Justice Press Conference

December 6, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

HOUSTON – ACLU of Texas Public Education Director Dotty Griffith today joined with other civil rights leaders urging greater transparency and accountability from the Houston Police Department.

Griffith said, “The ACLU of Texas gets more complaints about abuse of power and excessive use of force by police and law enforcement in communities all over the state than any other civil rights issues. This problem is not unique to Houston. At the same time, this pattern of shootings in Houston of persons in non-violent situations raises serious concerns. We feel the Justice Department is right to investigate why these incidents occur here with disturbing frequency. At the same time, we commend Chief McClelland for his proactive efforts to provide better training to Houston police and his request for DOJ review.

“A safe community requires police accountability and an atmosphere of trust between law enforcement and the public. Even one incident in which police appear to react with excessive force can seriously erode that trust. Multiple instances of police escalation of force in non-threatening situations can totally destroy the trust required for the kind of effective community policing advocated by Chief McClelland. Situations involving people with mental disabilities or impaired judgment because of alcohol or drugs are particularly difficult and require special training so officers know how to de-escalate appropriately.

“We hope that Chief McClelland and the entire force understand that good cops don’t fear accountability, they welcome it. That’s why we are gratified that the Department of Justice has begun an investigation of a number of troubling instances that have so damaged public faith in Houston police. A justice department review brings with it the power to file a lawsuit and compel change when patterns and practices of police misconduct are discovered. We urge a complete and thorough examination of these and any other incidents that call into question the conduct of Houston police, including the Alfaro case described today.

“We are aware that too often incidents may be traced to a few officers, which unfortunately casts the entire force in a bad light. Investigation and follow-up to root out problem officers and retrain or dismiss them is the only way to begin restoration of trust.

“We have been particularly troubled by instances when police have intimidated witnesses who wanted to record police encounters with the public. Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes recording police and other government officials carrying out their duties. The widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places further erodes public trust.

“An investigation by the Department of Justice will help determine whether HPD has systemic problems that lead to patterns of use of excessive force and abuse of power, including the intimidation of witnesses who photograph police confrontations. This protects officers as well as the community.”
 

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