Trimming the Houston Police Department budget by $20 million next fiscal year will “wipe out most of our overtime. It is going to impact response times,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said Wednesday morning.
And if the city doesn’t get approval to reform its pension plan, “we will cancel every [cadet] class and we’ll probably lay off cops,” he added.
Meeting with an invited group of Houston media managers, Acevedo started off proceedings by discussing one of his least favorite subjects: Senate Bill 4, the anti-sanctuary city measure that had just been signed into law by Governor Abbott with a special little last-minute tweak.
That tweak, offered up by Representative Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, added back in language that allows officers to ask people about their immigration status not just when they’ve arrested them but also when they have just detained them. Another amendment, offered by Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, would have applied this to adults only, but that was defeated by the Republican-controlled House. So kids can be interrogated as well.
Acevedo said his department plans to train officers as to when they can and cannot ask immigrant status questions before the law takes effect September 1. “Hey, if you go in pursuit of a van and at the termination point of the pursuit, 25 people scatter and start running and we set up a containment and we detain them, that is some reasonable suspicion that you’re dealing with human smuggling or human trafficking.
“But if you stop somebody for jaywalking and they look like me and they maybe sound like my dad would sound speaking English, and you start asking questions, you may find yourself in trouble because that may be racial profiling.
“We cannot racially profile. There are a few cops who will take this and run with it thinking they’re now ICE agents. They’re setting them up for failure.”
“I cannot have a policy that prohibits them from asking immigration status now. But no one’s required to do anything. But those who choose to do so must have a reason other than race, appearance, language.”
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“I promise you the sky is not going to fall on September 1. We’re not going to become the Gestapo.” He said they already plan to train the police force in regards to the law. "Because when litigation comes for racial profiling, we as taxpayers locally are going to be stuck with it."
Acevedo also discussed the city’s continuing plans to deal with the homeless problem.
Acevedo said he met with a group of Black Lives Matter members on Tuesday to further discuss the city’s plans to otherwise accommodate the city’s homeless – rather than leave them to congregate under U.S. 59 overpasses. “They think we’re going to go in like storm troopers and start beating up on everybody. That is not going to be our approach.”
He said the city should be given a chance to see if it can alleviate the problem, through its homeless outreach teams. A proposal has been made to set up the homeless in an area of town and bring in port-a-potties and mental health professionals. “We’re trying to manage and create an environment that’s safer for them, that’s healthier for them. It is a win for everybody. It’s a humane way. ”