Undercover Cop

New HPD Chief Hurtt is still plainclothes

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt has been busy revamping the bureaucracy and fighting for a budget since his arrival in March.

He claims to be proud of the department and its officers, but if he's so damn proud how come he can't bring himself to wear the HPD uniform? Is he secretly ashamed to be seen wearing the Space City badge? Is there a secret Hurtt memo out there:

To:All HPD Officers

Re: Style

Officers: Hellooooo!? Light blue shirts? That is so '90s, people. I urge you to check out the Phoenix uniforms. I am pleased to announce that Tommy Hilfiger has agreed to submit a design for new HPD uniforms, which he has described as "casual, but classic." One word -- paisley!!

It turns out that it's not Hurtt's impeccable fashion sense that's keeping him from donning the uni. It's just that he's not allowed to. By law.

Hurtt has yet to take the required exam that would license him as a Texas law enforcement officer, a formality that previous chiefs from out of town got out of the way quickly. In fact, under the old law, Hurtt would have only a week or two remaining to take the exam; luckily for him the rule was changed earlier this year to extend to two years the time a newly arrived officer has to pass the exam.

Until he passes, Hurtt not only can't wear HPD threads, he can't do anything an officer does -- including make an arrest, says Lillian Aldrete, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Officer Standards and Education.

Applicants have three chances to pass the test. Hurtt has yet to take it, she says.

Hurtt wouldn't comment, but HPD spokesman John Cannon says the chief indeed plans to take the test eventually, and "then you'll start seeing him in uniform."

And looking sharp, no doubt.

Caught on Camera

Of course, there are fashion plates on the other side of the law, too. You might remember the stylish home invader (see Hair Balls, July 8) who failed in his attempt to storm a Heights home but succeeded in winning the hearts of the well-dressed community when he left -- at the scene of the crime -- a picture of himself, dressed immaculately with tux, hat and gun. The picture was on a roll of film in a camera that he dropped while struggling with the surprised homeowner.

Even though they were dealing with an obvious criminal mastermind, law enforcement officials still cracked the case. Several calls came in to Crime Stoppers relaying word that the guy in the picture was one Greggory Lurice Mims.

Tracking him down was easy enough -- Mims already was sitting in jail on an unrelated drug charge.

Crime Stoppers head Kim Ogg says she was grateful for the assistance Mims provided in his own case. "Most people aren't stupid enough, or vain enough, to carry a camera to the scene of their crime," she said.

Then again, most people just don't look so damn good in a gun and hat as the stylin' Mr. Mims.

Advertisements for Myself

HPD Chief Harold Hurtt's fashion woes emerged, by the way, because he's been popping up all over the Web lately in his Phoenix uniform, in advertisements touting the University of Phoenix.

Hurtt is the proud owner of a Master of Arts degree in "Organizational Management" from the school in 1991. The degree, he tells Web surfers, "opened the door, enabling me to successfully compete for CEO positions."

So what, you say? Distinguished University of Houston alumni, such as they are, appear in ads proclaiming UH to be the Stanford of the Third Ward.

But UH and other public and private colleges are nonprofit entities. The University of Phoenix is a for-profit, nationwide business whose stock is traded publicly. It's just as much a business as Wal-Mart or General Motors. It's not exactly a sleazy diploma mill with fake correspondence courses, but it's closer in spirit to DeVry than DePaul. And ads for the University of Phoenix aren't public service announcements; they're akin to Mattress Mac shouting about his latest two-for-one recliner sale.

HPD spokesman John Cannon says Hurtt is not getting paid for the ads, and therefore the department has no problem with them.

So, we guess, Hurtt's free to pop up anywhere he wants on the Web. We look forward to seeing an Orbitz cheap-fares "Dunk the Chief" game any day now.

Hot Off the Press...Release

Opponents of light rail in Houston -- and they're still around, like lone Japanese soldiers in Okinawa caves in 1952 -- often complain that the Houston Chronicle is a one-sided cheerleader for rail. The paper might as well print Metro's press releases, critics grumble.

On August 10, they might have had a point.

The front of the local news section that day featured a story by transportation writer Lucas Wall saying that Metro was dumping its Park & Ride bus service to Houston Texans games; instead, everyone without a stadium parking pass would have to take the light rail and hunt for a parking space along the line. Which was kind of similar to a Hair Balls item that had been published five days earlier, but that's beside the point.

Wall's story looked like a press release, not because of its pollyannaish jump headline -- "Rail Can Save On Parking" -- but because...a lot of it came directly from a Texans press release. (A press release that by August 10 was two weeks old, but again, that's beside the point.)

The story highlighted two long -- and glowingly positive -- quotes from Texans executive Jamey Rootes and someone called Barry Mendel, the executive director of something called the Houston Downtown Alliance. Quotes that were taken directly from the Texans July 26 press release.

Wall said the "story had to be written in a very tight time frame" (guys, don't wait five days to pick up your copy of the Press) and the release "provided the information I needed from the team and the downtown alliance."

He said the story he filed included a reference to the press release, but the reference apparently was taken out for space reasons.

"I did not make a stink about the reference not appearing [in] the Texans rail story," he said by e-mail, "because I have a lot more important things to be concerned about."

None of which include worrying about what rail critics think of the Chron, apparently.

Something Fishy This Way Comes

You'd never know it if your information comes exclusively from the big media outlets in Houston, but restaurateur Tilman Fertitta is not, as it turns out, a universally loved human being who brings nothing but smiles to the faces of all.

Evidence of this startling development surfaced recently in Denver, where Fertitta is embroiled in a controversy with the city over a tax break he thinks is due to him.

It involves Fertitta's Ocean Journey aquarium, which -- surprisingly enough for Houstonians -- deals with fish, not food or tigers or Ferris wheels. Fertitta purchased the aquarium in a bankruptcy auction last year and now is threatening to bulldoze the place unless the city lowers his tax assessment.

In Houston, the story would be "Brave Businessman Takes on City Hall." A columnist for the Denver Post had another take.

"Something stinks at Houston-based seafood chain Landry's, Inc. Is it the fish? Or that big carp running the joint, Tilman Fertitta?" wrote the Post's Al Lewis.

"Yo, seafood cowboy, I got a little message for you: It ain't gonna wash," he said of Fertitta's threat. "[A]fter Enron, it's scary to watch any Houston-based company in constant acquisition mode, knowing that it once had criminally convicted Arthur Andersen as its auditor. It's scarier when the auditor hired to replace Andersen leaves [recently] with the CFO."

Lewis concludes: "Do whatever you want with your fish tank, Tilman. You're the chump who bought it."

Geez. Doesn't this guy Lewis realize he's criticizing a man who is working day and night to give Houstonians the chance to pay big bucks to see some depressingly caged tigers while eating out downtown?

The jealousy is just appalling, man.

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