The Houston Police Department thinks you shouldn't know exactly when it's allowed to strip-search you or probe your body cavities, and it also wants to keep secret its procedures for making sure handcuffs aren't fixed so tightly that they cause harm to the prisoner wearing them.
We received the department's nine-page "Effecting Arrests and Searches" policy through an open records request, then matched it up alongside an un-redacted copy we obtained earlier this year. In January, when we published our copy of HPD's un-redacted Use of Force policy side-by-side with the redacted version provided by the department, HPD told us the only information it redacts is that which would “divulge police tactics," potentially endangering officers in the field.
But it's unclear how the redactions in the Arrests and Searches policy could ever be construed as a safety issue for officers.
For example, this passage, which essentially says officers should not tighten handcuffs too much and need to periodically check on handcuffed inmates to make sure they haven't lost blood circulation, was for some reason entirely blacked out:
"Whenever handcuffs are used, they shall be secured by double-locking the cuffs to prevent them from being inadvertently tightened. Officers shall not tighten handcuffs to the extent that circulation is impaired, or allow handcuffs that are clearly interfering with circulation to remain tightened. Prisoners who remain handcuffed for an extended period of time shall be checked often to ensure proper blood circulation."
The department also kept secret its procedures for using interlocking techniques on prisoners, including directives ordering officers to "constantly ascertain the prisoner's condition" and to "maintain verbal contact with and keep a close watch on the prisoner."
Also redacted was much of the department's procedures for various types of searches, including body cavity proves and strip searches. HPD apparently doesn't think we should know when it can strip-search us, or that officers need to have permission from a supervisor before conducting a strip search. This part was redacted:
"Strip searches may be conducted only after an arrest when there is reasonable suspicion a suspect is concealing weapons, contraband, or evidence that may not be detected or recovered by the usual search techniques. Permission to perform a strip search shall be obtained from a supervisor prior to the search."
You can compare the rest of the redacted and un-redacted policies yourself:
We also requested the department's Firearms Qualification and Control policy, which regulates when officers can carry specific types of guns and provides specifications for approved weapons.
Interestingly, when we first received the documents responsive to our firearms policy request, HPD mistakenly sent a slightly outdated version of the policy (complete with a copied Post-it note with "OLD" written on it and slapped on the first page). The majority of the 15-page policy was redacted.
When HPD sent us the correct updated version, there was not one single redaction, although the information appeared to be mostly unchanged from the older, redacted policy. It's unclear why the department's perspective on what information was releasable and what wasn't changed so drastically in the five years between policy updates.
That updated un-redacted policy and the old, redacted version are included here, so you can see the difference yourself. It is literally black-and-white:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
[UPDATE]: 9:30 a.m. May 27, 2016
We asked HPD why there was such a drastic difference between the redactions in the outdated and more recent firearms control policies. In an email, Jeff Monk from the department's records division told us that the redactions in the old policy were the result of an Attorney General ruling in 2008. The new policy, however, did not have an Attorney General's ruling to apply to it, which is why no redactions were made.