"Cite and Release": New Houston Police Chief Wants Fewer Trips to Jail

Art Acevedo doesn’t want his officers tied up for hours hauling people to jail and processing them for minor offenses. Instead, Houston’s new police chief talked Thursday about the need for a “cite and release” program, which would enable police to write a ticket and the alleged offender to skip an immediate trip to a holding cell.

“I already talked to the DA (incoming District Attorney Kim Ogg) yesterday. I don’t understand and I don’t want to waste time taking a person with an ounce of marijuana to jail. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Acevedo said. “In a world of limited resources, we have to focus on lives and property instead of some kid with a little dope.” He said he has used cite and release in Austin since 2008.

In a free-ranging discussion with media representatives, Acevedo brought forth some of his latest ideas – one of which is that HPD has the wrong kind of helicopter for the city’s needs – as well as stressing that he will be determining policy for his department.

For instance, in another proposed change in policy, Acevedo discussed his intention to stop the practice of having homicide investigators go to the scene of officer-involved shootings. He wants those investigators not to be drawn away from the other homicides. Instead, he says he plans to assemble a special team that would be trained to handle all officer-involved shootings.

He discussed that with Ogg as well on Wednesday, he said, to see if the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would like to be involved with that effort.

Acevedo pledged a far more open department and said he or one of his top assistant chiefs would be at the site of every officer-involved shooting.

He said a reorganization of the department would be done by April 1.

“There’s more chiefs around here than you can shake a stick at” he said, adding that he was going to “flatten the organization a little bit.” And speaking of hierarchy, all HPD officers better have their uniforms in good shape because “everybody will be doing some patrol,” he said.

Acevedo plans to go out on patrol on December 31, which means some New Year’s Eve offenders could have the distinction of being arrested by the city's top cop.

Asked once more if Houston was a sanctuary city, Acevedo said no, but at the same time made it clear that he thinks police officers have better things to do than work hand in hand with ICE. He said the force will be focused on public safety.

“I don’t want my cops going to Home Depot and harassing the day laborers there,” Acevedo said.

On the issue of the helicopters, the police chief said that while the department has a lot of helicopters, they aren’t particularly effective. “Basically it’s a drone with people on it,” he said. What’s needed are helicopters that are able to negotiate flooding and rescue stranded residents, as well as have the ability to fight fires from the air, he said.

It took Acevedo a while to get a “B3 multi-mission-capable helicopter” in Austin. No word yet on whether he's put it on his Christmas wish list for Mayor Sylvester Turner or where the mayor stands on that issue.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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