Before swearing in former Austin police chief Art Acevedo as Houston's new top cop, Travis County State District Judge Cliff Brown told a story about how, at one point in time, he had wondered if all the great things people said about Acevedo were true.
Years ago, when he first met Acevedo in Austin, it seemed that every public official had a good word about him — to the point that it was almost overwhelming, Brown said. He had heard a story about Acevedo chasing down a thief who stole an old lady's purse and thought, “this is too much.” And even years down the line, as he heard Houston City Council gush about Acevedo as they decided whether or not to approve his appointment as the new chief (which it did, unanimously), Brown joked that he couldn't help but think, “Are these people drinking the Kool-Aid too?”
“But after working alongside Chief Acevedo in the most critical of situations, to see his leadership and action and to see this man engage with the community on the most basic of levels, I've come to know and understand that he is the real deal,” Brown said, just before asking Acevedo to raise his right hand. “I can say from the bottom of my heart that Austin's loss is truly Houston's gain. He's going to do an outstanding job with this community, and you all will be very happy that you chose him as your police chief.”
So if Judge Brown's remarks are any indication, the bar has been set high for Houston's new police chief. He is taking the reins as the public demands transparency following high-profile officer-involved shootings, as racial tension across the nation remains high and as policy makers and top law enforcement officers rethink the war on drugs and over-incarceration. On Tuesday, Acevedo took questions from reporters for the first time in HPD uniform to address what his top priorities will be.
Acevedo said that in his first weeks in office he will focus on building relationships with the community and his new police force, as well as taking a look at various department procedures to make sure HPD is “working smarter, not harder.” Acevedo said he will be sending out a survey to all officers asking what their needs are, and that he will immediately begin looking for ways to make improvements.
“One of the things that I never want to hear from my team is when I ask, why do we work this way?, is they say, 'Well, that's just the way we've always done it,'” Acevedo said. “This is your first clue that it's probably not the way to do it. They're going to learn very quickly that is not validation.”
Acevedo spent little time discussing specifics of anything he intends to change or bring to the table, but did at least offer his views on drug enforcement, which has been a hot topic in Houston law enforcement after both Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez and District Attorney-elect Kim Ogg said they want to stop arresting people for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
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Acevedo did not specifically say whether he supported their proposal, but said he will focus on other priorities than going after, for example, college kids with an ounce of two of pot in their pocket. Instead, he will prioritize violent crime. “You can waste a lot of resources taking a guy to jail for two ounces of marijuana. In the meantime, while you're booking that person for one or two hours, we have a home invasion robbery coming on,” he said. “From my perspective, saving lives matters. Keeping people safe matters.”
Acevedo said he will pay special attention to Houston's kush epidemic, which he called a health crisis. It appears Acevedo will pick up where Acting Chief Martha Montalvo left off in going after kush manufacturers and sellers rather than users. “We have to go after organizations, the people behind the curtains,” he said. “I don't want to be focusing on the street level. I want to go back to the source.”
Throughout his time in the spotlight, Acevedo welled up a few times — but he wasn't one to hide his feelings. Instead, Acevedo took a few moments to explain why he was emotional about the change. In announcing Acevedo as the new chief, Mayor Sylvester Turner had said Acevedo was a “cop's cop,” one who was both out on the front lines — perhaps chasing down thieves on the street — and working tirelessly behind the scenes to promote community policing and relationship-building. On Tuesday, it was apparent that Acevedo intended to do the same in Houston.
“When you see a SWAT sniper tearing up, a police chief tearing up, it's because we love one another,” he said. “There's a narrative in this country — I call it a false narrative — that policing is broken. That eight hundred thousand police officers representing [thousands] of police departments are broken. And they're not. They're imperfect, like the human condition. I just want to say that cops matter, and the reason I'm here is because I love being a cop. I love public service. And I believe that I really have come to a great organization.”