The War Within

Mark Aguirre is an aggressive Houston cop who won civilian support by fighting crime. But the abrasive captain could lose his biggest battle: the one raging over him in HPD itself.

As part of the plan, Aguirre ended what is called beat integrity. Under that traditional concept, patrol cars are assigned to a beat -- South Central has eight of them -- and stay within that geographic area. Under his plan, Aguirre says, "I don't make them adhere to any geographic boundaries because I send them to where the problems are."

It was "a new way of doing business," he says. "The officers complained, oh, vehemently."

That they did. The plan made perfect sense to Aguirre, but to patrol officers it seemed he was taking away the number of cops available to handle calls and assigning them to less important jobs.

Officer Michael Frazee patrols the streets looking for illegal trash.
Deron Neblett
Officer Michael Frazee patrols the streets looking for illegal trash.
Officer Michael Frazee patrols the streets looking for illegal trash.
Deron Neblett
Officer Michael Frazee patrols the streets looking for illegal trash.

"Officers think they're wasting their time," says a cop who wants to remain anonymous. "Operation Renaissance sparked a lot of heat because officers thought it was a useless thing. The main focus should be on answering calls, but with so many specialized units that don't have to answer calls, things start to stack up."

They compare it to the hated Neighborhood Oriented Policing concept, whose acronym some cops say stands for Nobody On Patrol.

"It can take hours and hours to answer some calls, and even days for nonemergency calls," one officer says. "And when we do answer the call, we're the ones who take the brunt of complaints and whining from the citizens about how long it took."

Aguirre sees it differently. "That's an issue they parade in front of citizens to create a groundswell of support to stop the program," he says. "In other words, a citizen says, 'What took you so long?' " and officers bad-mouth Operation Renaissance.

Officers, he says, had grown accustomed to "milking" calls. "What was happening was you had officers that were taking too long to handle simple calls -- let's say a loud-music disturbance. They're staying out at it for an hour, 45 minutes, when something like that should take five minutes."

Some of the front-line people see the problem as more serious than just a matter of calls stacking up.

"When you have just a few people running calls, it becomes an officer-safety issue in terms of the availability of backup," says Hans Marticiuc, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. "Operation Renaissance has been going on for a while, and thank God no one's been hurt so far."

Aguirre dismisses such talk. Officers "become concerned," he says, "because now they don't have two people in [beat number] 80, they might have one permanently assigned, and the other guy's roaming around between [beats] 70 and 40. So, you know, [they say] 'I'm afraid.' Well, if you're afraid, you shouldn't be a police officer anyway. And I tell them to look at the [Department of Public Safety] guys out there; sometimes they're the only rascal out there for a hundred miles out there by himself.

"And it's not like you're abandoned. I mean, we have the helicopter there, we got the radio, we're surrounded by [constable's] precinct six over here, the sheriff's over here -- it's a nonissue."

In other words, if you have doubts about his plan, you lack the physical courage to be a cop. That doesn't go down too well in the ranks.

"That's mighty brave talk from a guy who's sitting behind a desk," Marticiuc says.

Such talk, though, is Aguirre's way. "At roll calls he can be real demeaning," says a union official who gets an earful from his members. "He makes you feel like dirt, like shit…it's real demeaning, condescending, with a lot of yelling and cursing."

"His management style may be too brusque," says an officer who is an Aguirre supporter. "It's 'Whatever I tell you to do, if it's not illegal or immoral, I expect you to do it.' He's pretty much no-nonsense."

A City Hall staffer who has come in contact with Aguirre says he "shows no people skills that I am aware of."

Aguirre can be laid-back, but even then he seldom censors himself.

"Unfortunately, you have two groups of officers in the Houston Police Department," he'll begin. "You have the one group that grew up and knew they wanted to be law enforcement officers and this is a calling. Without exception, it's been my experience that these are the finest, most self-motivated, energetic officers that we have. And then you have the other mentality, the people who are doing it for a paycheck, and in that crew are those who do as little as possible and within that crew also are those who will do more work trying to get out of work than you or I would care to expend…Like everything else, not everyone is a go-getter, and unfortunately government jobs breed laziness."

With that sunny attitude in mind, Aguirre ignored the protests and implemented Operation Renaissance.

When it came to drugs, he threatened to foreclose on hotels, houses and stores where he thought the owners were encouraging illicit behavior. Working with the city's Forfeiture Abatement Support Team, South Central officers made cases against hotels on OST, six houses in the Third Ward and even a convenience store on McGowen.

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