Friday, July 03, 2020

Houston PD decides public can know when police might injure or kill them

For years, Houston PD has kept its use of force policy secret, abetted by a series of Texas Attorneys General. Most of their General Orders were public, but the use of force policy was largely redacted. While the AG upheld Houston's request to keep the policy secret (an example of the transparency losses suffered when the Legislature codified Holmes v. Morales in 1997), to my knowledge, few other departments had followed their lead.

Grits always thought that's because keeping the policy secret didn't make sense. If nothing else, I found it unseemly and a little rude that police would go to the trouble of writing down a policy that basically tells the public, "Here's when we will hurt you" and then refuse to share a copy with them.

"No, I won't tell you the circumstances under which I'm trained to kill you, but don't worry, you'll know when I do!"

Now, the policy has been un-redacted and is publicly available, reported the Houston Chronicle last week. Before releasing it, the department made mostly minor, inconsequential revisions, the paper reported, including changing the policy's name from "Use of Force" to "Response to Resistance." (Austin and Dallas have done the same thing, likely many others.)

The "response to resistance" terminology is verbal judo being deployed on behalf of authoritarianism, an Orwellian re-framing in which all police use of force, by definition, responds to "resistance" and is therefore justified. It comes off to me as a little smarmy. If you don't like "Use of Force," OTOH, some scholars suggest the title, "Police Violence," instead.

Grits hasn't had time to examine Houston's policy in detail, but I know there are local activists who've been waiting to see it for many years. Releasing this policy was a small but important step; it's hard to debate appropriate police practices when they are secret.

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