University of Houston's Lame Attempt to Distract From Recent Robberies

Hair Balls is used to receiving one or two (hundred) moronic press releases a month, but the one issued today by University of Houston flacks needs to be publicly addressed for its singular ingenuousness.

The release praises the university's new police chief, Ceaser Moore, for firing three cops who allegedly stole two "mini-appliances that fell off the back of a delivery truck on campus." This comes on the heels of some bad publicity for UH, which experienced three robberies in a week.

The press release addresses these robberies, and Chief Moore's awesomeness, by stating that the ex-HPD investigator "was well positioned to implement a number of bold initiatives that resulted in multiple arrests" of suspects in those robberies. The initiatives included hiring new supervisors and beefing up security.

But our biggest problem with the press release is the part that claims Moore "has also worked to instill a strong sense of professionalism, dedication, ethics and transparency throughout its ranks."

It then quotes Carl Carlucci, UH's executive vice chancellor and vice president for administration and finance, as saying, "We will not tolerate a lapse of integrity, or any action by our police officers that fails to reassure the university community and the public that we are here to protect and serve."

This doesn't jibe with the experience we had when we tried to find out more about an independent consultant's report from April 2011 saying the department suffered from low morale, possibly due to a "top-heavy" structure "with too many higher ranking personnel." The report was conducted in the wake of the death of UH Officer Ann O'Donnell, who crashed her car while responding to a call on Christmas Eve, 2010. Cocaine was found in her system.

The report, drafted by controversial ex-HPD officer Mark Aguirre, called for a "final investigation and report."

Carlucci was nowhere to be found when we wanted to learn more about a report that stated, among other things, that the department lacked policies for drug and alcohol testing as well as search-and-seizure. (These were going through a "final review" in April 2011, according to the University.)

Apparently, Carlucci thinks the public will sleep more soundly at night if they know the new chief comes down hard on bozo cops who steal mini-appliances, whatever the hell those are. (Toaster ovens? Coffeemakers? Mini refrigerators?) -- but matters of low morale and drug testing policies that may or may not exist are not anything the public (including thousands of students) needs to know.

Carlucci didn't want to talk to us about that stuff, nor did UH flack Richard Bonnin. So we're not sure how far this "transparency" reaches. Will transparency only rear its inconvenient head when the University's press office needs to vomit forth a puff piece for damage control? Or will it mean that, from here on out, the employees of a public university will actually answer questions the public has a right to have answered, even though the truth might sometimes be a little embarrassing?

Circling the wagons and zipping lips is a time-honored tradition among officials, and, to a certain extent, it's to be expected. But don't tarnish that tradition by simultaneously issuing ridiculous press releases that reduce your police chief -- a man who has served Houston's public for more than three decades -- to giving quotes about stolen appliances. That's undignified. We'd prefer simple obfuscation.

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