The discipline policies and practices for HPD in general need a long, hard look. It’s very rare for officers to be punished for excessive force complaints, even in the face of overwhelming (and sometimes video) evidence. Between 2007 and 2012, according to HPD records, officers killed citizens in 109 shootings. Every killing was ruled justified. The process needs an overhaul, and more public involvement. I want to hear Mayoral candidates address these issues, and not just give me the same paeans and platitudes we’ve gotten in past campaigns.While Grits' shares Kuff's concerns about the HPD disciplinary process, it's worth mentioning that, because Houston decades ago adopted the state civil service code (many years before the most onerous provisions limiting discipline and open records were added), most of the policy issues which need addressing lie in state law, not under the purview of local government. Indeed, there's a Houston-specific section of Local Government Code Chapter 143 which governs disciplinary policy in detail. About 73 Texas police departments operate under the Chapter 143 civil service code, including most of the larger cities except Dallas and El Paso.
The problems created by Chapter 143 are fundamental. For example, police disciplinary files are closed records in civil service cities and open records in non-civil service cities, making the latter departments more transparent and accountable to the public. We know departments can operate successfully with open disciplinary files because most of them do. And secret disciplinary files arguably contradict new disclosure requirements under the Michael Morton Act, since the records are concealed from prosecutors as well as the public. Re-opening those disciplinary files would be one of the most important police accountability reforms the Lege could undertake. (See a related NY Times story published Feb. 4.)
Further, the civil service code limits the time frame in which complaints can be filed to 180 days but also disallows management from amending the complaint after subsequent investigation. And it limits promotion decisions to a combination of written test scores and seniority without taking into account an officer's disciplinary record.
Those are the sort of mundane bureaucratic mechanisms which must be adjusted to improve police discipline in civil service cities. A civilian review board which only makes recommendations won't do the trick. The barriers to accountability are enshrined in state law and out of the control of municipal officials, a fact which contributes immensely to weakened disciplinary processes in those jurisdictions.
The rest of Kuff's piece is excellent so give it a read. I only wanted to clarify the complex issues surrounding police accountability and the limits of any mayor or city council to improve it.