Houston's Acevedo, Texas Big City Chiefs Blast Bathroom Bill at Capitol

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo sits for an interview with the Houston Press in June.EXPAND
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo sits for an interview with the Houston Press in June.
Photo by Marco Torres

Standing in front of the state capitol Tuesday morning, Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo blasted the proposed bathroom bills legislators are debating in the special session.

"It'd a bad law, it's bad political theater, and at the end of the day it's bad for Texas," Acevedo said.

He was flanked by police leaders from San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — the second-, third- and fourth-largest cities in Texas — in a public rebuke of Republican legislators by their own law enforcement community.

There are several versions of a bathroom bill circulating at the capitol, and senators are expected to take up SB 3 on Tuesday. That bill would, among other things, bar counties and cities from passing ordinances protecting transgender Texans and require people to use the public bathroom aligned with the gender on their birth certificate. Supporters, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, argue the bill will protect women and girls from male sexual predators masquerading as transgender women.

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The police commanders said that narrative is a myth. William McManus, San Antonio's top cop, said he searched high and low but failed to find a single instance of a single public bathroom assault. Dallas Police Department Major Rueben Ramirez pored through records dating back to 2014 and likewise found zero claims of people being violated in a bathroom.

The commanders echoed a common theme: a bathroom bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Harris County Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Debra Schmidt, who wrote nationally recognized LGBT police policies, promised Texans that if there were a safety crisis in the state's public restrooms, she'd be the first to address it. The panic over bathroom sexual assaults, she said, is fabricated.

“When we spin our wheels over scare tactics like this, we're doing a real disservice to our communities,” Schmidt said.

Harris County Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Debra Schmidt has long advocated for LGBT issues, even when her commanders did not support her efforts.
Harris County Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Debra Schmidt has long advocated for LGBT issues, even when her commanders did not support her efforts.

Houston's Acevedo noted that police commanders and unions that represent rank-and-file officers — groups which often clash over labor issues — agree that regulating bathroom use would be a poor use of police resources. Even if they could spare the officers, the commanders wondered how they could possibly enforce such a law — McManus offered the awkward scenario of posting officers at bathrooms to ask Texans with full bladders for their IDs.

The bathroom bill is the second major legislative battle that has found Republicans at odds with Texas police officers. In the regular session, the Legislature passed SB 4, a bill which compels local police to help enforce federal immigration laws, over the strong objection of many Texas police chiefs and county sheriffs.

Acevedo, who was among the police who testified against the bill at the capitol, said SB 4 will foster distrust between police and Hispanic residents and strain his already understaffed police department.

The bathroom bill has created another pair of odd bedfellows: police and victim's advocates. The groups, who regularly tussle about how sexual assaults are investigated, have found common ground on the bathroom bill, a fact noted by Annette Burris-Clay, head of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. She said SB 3 and similar bills in the House will do nothing to stop sexual assault, and left with a warning to legislators.

“When you have law enforcement and victim's advocates on the same page, maybe they have something worth listening to,” Burris-Clay said.


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