Bad Boy In Blue

Union head Hans Marticiuc (rhymes with wreck) takes aim at the police chief, the mayor, other labor leaders and anyone else who gets in his way

Nuchia then ordered what would be the first of six Internal Affairs investigations of Marticiuc, who says that all of the complaints against him have to do with his actions as a labor leader. (All six are still pending; the department refuses to comment on IAD investigations.)

Marticiuc acknowledges that the probes could cost him his career. "I've tried to put my finances in order," he says. He laughs, but underneath, his tone is serious. He acknowledges that he's not supposed to discuss the investiga- tions until they're concluded. He shrugs, then says, "Let's talk about them anyway."

He wrote a letter to Internal Affairs, explaining that the general order regarding uniforms was vague and, in his attorney's opinion, a violation of the First Amendment.

The probes seem to have had little effect on Marticiuc. On the front page of Badge and Gun's December issue is a photo of Marticiuc and 20 other board union members. All are in uniform.

Marticiuc has found plenty of other ways to needle the city administration and win the loyalty of his fellow officers. In April, Marticiuc took out two weeks' worth of classified ads seeking a Lanier look-alike for a series of billboards criticizing the mayor. In August, at Marticiuc's urging, HPOU's membership adopted a resolution of no confidence in Nuchia. More recently, Marticiuc and the HPOU staked out positions against the mayor's, opposing the annexation of Kingwood and the construction of a downtown baseball stadium. All of those actions came to naught: The billboards have yet to go up, Nuchia was elected to the appeals bench, Kingwood was annexed and voters approved the stadium.

Other Marticiuc stunts have met with arguable success. This spring, he declared "Traffic Ticket Tolerance Month," hoping to pressure the department to stop using the number of tickets an officer writes as part of his job-performance evaluation. To get his point across, Marticiuc suggested that during the month of April, instead of writing tickets for minor traffic violations, officers should write warnings instead.

Not surprisingly, just before Marticiuc was to hold a press conference, he was summoned to the chief's office. Nuchia asked what the hell was going on.

"He knew what it was about, and I knew what it was about," remembers Marticiuc. "We're the fourth largest city in the nation, our pay sucks and you're seeing a whole different kind of police labor organization."

He also says Nuchia told him that what he was doing was illegal, and that he could lose his job, spend time in jail and never work as a police officer again.

Marticiuc, though, was careful in his wording. Officers have always had the discretion whether to write a ticket during a traffic stop. Marticiuc simply encouraged them to use that discretion. Technically, what he was urging was legal, and Nuchia couldn't touch him.

Marticiuc pronounces "Traffic Ticket Tolerance Month" a victory, claiming that the department's southeast patrol recorded a 50 percent reduction in tickets and that the central and North Shepherd patrols also posted lower numbers. And certainly, the publicity irked Lanier and Nuchia -- perhaps Marticiuc's true intent.

But viewed strictly by the numbers, "Traffic Ticket Tolerance Month" flopped. Figures from the Houston municipal court show that, in fact, more tickets were written in April than the month before. In April, Houston police officers -- along with airport and Metro police and Harris County constables -- wrote 68,691 traffic citations. That compares with 68,176 in March and 73,560 in May.

Marticiuc explains that he was undercut by his rivals, the Houston Police Patrolmen's Union, whose leaders urged members to double their ticket writing. There's no way to determine whether HPPU members actually handed out more tickets in April. But if the union was successful in undermining Marticiuc's plan, it is one of the few battles with him that HPPU has won. And if Marticiuc has his way, HPPU won't be around much longer to annoy him.

Soon after Marticiuc took office as president, he tried to merge the Houston Police Officers Association with HPPU. A single union would have greater bargaining power with the city, and greater leverage in the Legislature -- and that greater strength might eventually win cops higher pay.

But HPPU rebuffed Marticiuc's overtures -- as it had the overtures of Marticiuc's predecessor. In hindsight, Marticiuc claims he's glad that he was turned down. HPPU, he says, didn't want to open its books; the U.S. Department of Labor is now investigating allegations by former members that HPPU funds are mysteriously missing. The union's leaders deny that there's been any misappropriation and say that the investigation will clear them. But the investigation is obviously burdensome; Marticiuc says that he's happy his organization isn't "tainted with their problems."

After HPPU spurned Marticiuc's courtship, he adopted a new strategy: If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. The Houston Police Officers Association restructured itself as a tougher, lower-to-the-ground bargaining machine. Its constitution was reformulated to give lower-ranking cops more power, and the group's name was changed to the HPOU to reflect its new aggression.

The new acronym was only a letter away from that of the Houston Police Patrolmen's Union, and HPPU was hopping mad that Marticiuc had invaded its turf. The group eventually filed a civil suit against the HPOU, claiming that the new name was "deceptively similar" to HPPU's, and that the renamed organization wasn't a "recognized" union. (Recognition is a matter of interpretation: HPPU is directly affiliated with the AFL-CIO; HPOU is affiliated with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, an offshoot of the AFL-CIO.)

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