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Community Oriented Policing

Community Oriented Policing
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By Richard Hanna
Edited by Nick Cooper

In Ferguson, Missouri, a young black man was shot by the police even though his hands were up.  In New York City, a man was choked to death by the police for selling illegal cigarettes. These are two of the many hot spots around the country where a different model of relations between police and the community could save lives. From small towns to so-called liberal New York City, there have been consistent abuses by the police against minority communities for decades. As we get ready for the decision in Ferguson, we have to look at what COP could have done.

The Houston Police Department (HPD) has a long history of problems between the minority community and the police, going back to the Camp Logan Riots in 1917. The all black Third Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment was involved with a mutiny that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 16 civilians. 19 soldiers were put to death by hanging and 41 were given life sentences.

In 1967 again the HPD was put in the spotlight as they stormed Lanier Hall on the campus of Texas Southern University. Then Police Chief, Herman Short, was on record of saying he would make a example if campus unrest occurred in Houston. After police thought shots were fired at them, they shot 3000 rounds into the dorms of innocent students. 488 students men and women were dragged out of the dorms, beat, and arrested. 24 year old police officer Louis Kuba was killed. Five were charged in the killings, but later the bullets that killed the officers were found to have come from other cops.

In 1977 Joe Campos Torres was beat by HPD officers, thrown into Buffalo Bayou and drowned. The officers were fined $1 and a year probation. This led to the Moody Park Riots on the Northside on the first anniversary of Torres death.

After the HPD killings of Ida Delaney and Bryon Gillium in 1989, calls rang out to put the HPD in the hands of an outsider. Lee Brown came in to run HPD and implement new ideas about community policing. From 1982 -1990 he worked to bring the community together to work with law enforcement not as enemies. The idea was to decentralize the police department and directly engage citizens in protecting their community and deterring crime, and it was presented to the nation as a new model. Since then, it seems to have been set aside. In 2024, HPD was caught on camera beating a kicking Chad Holly, a young black teenager, while handcuffed.

According to Professor James S.E. Opolot Department of Administration of Justice at Texas Southern University (TSU), the Ferguson model was the opposite of everything that is part of Community Oriented Policing (COP).  COP employs two-way communication, open minds, collective problem solving with the community, and attempts to proactively address conditions that can give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear. It also means more minority hiring.

Houston City Councilman District D - Dwight Boykins thinks we need to get back to COP. “When we were growing up, it was old school policing where police officers would ride the neighborhoods and pull in the driveway, have coffee, have dinner with neighbors, knew the kids, would let the kids play with the siren…  and that was community policing when I was growing up. It made you think about going to college and becoming a police officer. Right now it’s just a job, chasing statistics. The employment is short within the Houston Police Department (HPD). So every chance they get now, they are out trying to do their job, under stress which means they are making bad choices like in the Ferguson situation. So, they are not friendly. We need to get back to that… I would love to see our officers get back to that.”

Michael O. Adams Ph.D. Professor of Political Science and Interim Chair of the Political Science Department at Texas Southern University agrees.

The way most crimes are solved — it’s not always in terms of an intense police investigation, but it’s the involvement of the community. The community knows people who are out there committing crime.  So if you have a good working relationship between the police and the community they certainly you will see a precipitous drop in certain types of crime, in particular how it relates to minority community. I do think its effective…. We know some law enforcement depends on the undergoing philosophy of the person in charge and also it comes through the appointment process. If it’s a strong mayor wants to appoint a police chief or police commissioner, then that will dictate the philosophy of what that police department will be. If  it a kind of conservative “tough law and order,” you can go back to a number of cities historically,  you had a very difficult relationship whether you’re talking about Philadelphia or Los Angeles. Once we saw a change in terms of city or municipal administration, if it was  kind of progressive administration, then it meant that there may be… the possibility of appointing a law enforcement director or chief chief that would be progressive would embrace community policing as a concept.

There are a lot of things in Ferguson as a academic we should wait till everything should be sorted out before we should rush to judgment, but clearly there was some things there especially interims of the lack of minority officers on that force given the representation or the population size of the community. Which was close to being a majority in terms of African Americans or people of color. So clearly  you would  think that whole idea of neighborhood or community policing was missing in that environment.

But how do the officers on the street feel? Douglas Griffith Vice President of the Houston’s Police Officers Union feels that COP is something that HPD has been doing already, ”I think we are starting to come full circle… Community Policing basically boils down to officers doing the right thing to help the people within the neighborhoods they patrol. I think it’s important that once you work an area for a certain period of time… you just get to know people… From a police officer’s perspective, the more you know those people, the easier your job is… You have to get to know your neighborhood, and the people in your neighborhood to be effective.”

Have we had problems with officers doing bad things? Yes we have. But it’s how we go about fixing that, it’s going to make us better… You may have an opinion of police officers, that is… all you ever dealt with is bad ones. Or if you had one bad experience with a police officer, your thought process is, they’re all like that. That’s not necessarily the case. That one officer you had a bad incident with might have been just having a bad day.

When asked about the difference of Ferguson and Houston. Griffith said, “I think as a organization, we have a better communication with the neighborhoods than do some small towns… We do get out there, we work with the community. We have Ministers on Crime, we have Police and Clergy Alliance. We make those inroads with the community. I don’t think that we would have those that same kind of issue here here. I think Ferguson was just overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do because a small town’s not going to train for that. The odds of that happening in a small town are slim to none… It would definitely  have a different response here. We would get out ahead of it and do proper things from the get go.  Their chief didn’t have a clue what to do, and they overreacted. We don’t have that issue here.”

A National Night Out was observed in the Houston area recently. Mrs Lylian Parker of the Scott Terrace Civics Club recognizes the help of the police and COP. “I think it does have a connection between neighbors, and it empowers the neighbors to be a little closer and to protect themselves.  By virtue of the fact that they think it is sanctioned by the police it gives the neighbors the idea that maybe if we bound together they think the police are going to help us if we work as a team… In terms of the police, I don’t think there’s a direct change… A long time ago, we had one person on every street that was like a watch.  Two or three times a street, you rode your street. We would get together at the meeting and we would tell what changes on the street… That what we called our neighborhood watch. After while we had not had no major crime.  But most people have been here a long time and they sort of know each other. That is a crime prevention thing too. We have that is sort of changing. In 2024 we have so many people gone, and they are bringing in more renters than we have ever had. We are trying to have neighborhood outtings and trying to continue civics club so it won’t affect  us negatively… We are changing, but I don’t think you can depend on the police to take care of your neighborhood, not one like ours, because you’d be dead by the time they pull up.”

One of the things that has come out of the case in New York City and Ferguson Missouri is the need for cameras on the police. Officer Griffith said this is something that HPD is trying as he is using it now. He feels that this will better help police and trust of the community. Thought there is a lot to be done like the civilian review board’s and other empowerment with the community like punishment for officers, there is still a lot to be done. Feeling is still high even in Houston.  Because of what has happened in the past here it is the relationship that might stop a episode of  events boiling out of control here in Houston.