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June 5th, 2014:

Those uninvestigated criminal cases

To say the least, this is big news.

The Houston Police Department, already reeling from a scandal involving shoddy work in its homicide unit, was dealt another blow Monday when a report revealed that some 20,000 burglary, theft, assault and hit-and-run cases with workable leads were not investigated in 2013.

The authors of the city-commissioned study surveyed HPD division commanders who revealed “excessively high numbers of cases with leads that were not investigated in 2013 due to a lack of personnel.”

The report noted that 15,000 burglaries and thefts, 3,000 assaults and nearly 3,000 hit-and-runs were not investigated last year. The data was based on monthly HPD management reports of cases with workable leads.

The study’s findings arrived at a critical time for HPD. The Houston Chronicle on Sunday reported on almost two dozen homicide cases dating back a decade that were barely investigated by HPD detectives. That scandal erupted earlier in the year when eight detectives were disciplined for their lack of work on the cases.

HPD Chief Charles McClelland had not completed reading the new 200-page study late Monday, but is expected to comment in the next day or two, said spokesman John Cannon.

[…]

The $150,000 study released Monday was conducted by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum and Justex Systems Inc., a consulting firm co-directed by Larry Hoover, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

It was requested by City Councilman and former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford in July 2010, but was delayed by the city’s recent budget shortage.

“When we have tens of thousands of cases with solvability factors, with leads, where suspects could be arrested, that simply shouldn’t be happening in the city,” Bradford said. “I am not shocked, because we don’t have the personnel to do it.” Bradford said he favors hiring 1,500 new officers, but said 800 – at a cost of $80 million – would be a starting point. HPD currently has 5,100 officers

Mayor Annise Parker said her administration has taken a number of steps to have more of the city’s officers investigating crimes, but added that “massive” funding is on the horizon.

“We investigate everything we have the capacity to investigate,” Parker said. “We need more police officers. The only way we can have more police officers is to have more tax revenue to pay for them. We have done an extraordinarily good job of utilizing every resource, putting more officers back on the street, doing all these really innovative things to maximize it, but ultimately, that’s just kept us treading water.”

A copy of the large report is here. I’m sure a lot of people will be reading it. I’ll get to it as I can in my copious free time.

The main thing to come out of this is likely to be calls for hiring more officers. With a Mayoral election on the horizon, you can hear the calls already. I’m just going to say this for now, and bear in mind that I haven’t read the report yet. I’m sure that there are some deadweight members of HPD just as we recently learned there were in the Homicide division. I’m sure that in the nine-figure Public Safety budget there are some questionable expenditures and opportunities for optimization, especially since that part of the budget has been basically untouchable despite the recent shortfalls. But I’m also sure that we’re not going to efficiency our way to a solution here. Whether you think HPD needs 1,500 new officers or could get by just fine with some smaller number of new hires, doing that kind of hiring is going to cost a lot of money. How exactly do we plan to pay for that? Even without the near-term bumps in the road that we face, and even if you believe that the non-Public Safety portion of the budget still has some readily identifiable waste in it after the great cutbacks of 2010, we don’t have $80 million plus lying around to spend on increasing HPD’s workforce. I don’t see how you can get there without at least rolling back the Bill White property tax rate cuts, if not raising the rate beyond that. Politicians love to talk about making “tough decisions”, well, here’s one that someone needs to make. I will take proposals to add staff to HPD seriously when I see an accompanying proposal for how to pay for it. Calling for solutions is easy. Coming up with solutions, then fighting for them if they’re not immediately received with hurrahs and hosannas, that’s what separates the contenders from the pretenders. Lisa Falkenberg has more.

Judge Dietz refuses to recuse himself

Game on.

The Travis County District Court judge overseeing a contentious trial over the state’s school finance system rejected a request by the attorney general’s office to recuse himself from the case.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office asked state District Judge John Dietz to remove himself from the proceedings after learning of emails between Dietz and plaintiffs’ lawyers, some of which state lawyers say “suggest that the judge is coaching the plaintiffs’ counsel in order to improve their case.”

In an order signed Monday, Dietz declined to step aside, instead asking Billy Ray Stubblefield, presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, to assign a separate judge to hear the motion of recusal.

Lawyers for hundreds of school districts slammed the state’s motion as an effort to delay a ruling.

If that were the attorney general’s intent, it worked, said Rick Gray, attorney for the Texas Taxpayer Student Fairness Coalition.

Gray said Dietz likely won’t continue work on the case until the recusal matter is resolved.

A ruling had been expected sometime this summer.

The attorney general’s office “shut it down and the ultimate losers are the schoolkids,” Gray said. “Every day, they stall and delay this is one more day we’ve got kids going through an underfunded, inefficient and inadequate system.”

See here for the background. The main thing I learn from this is that at least one other plaintiff group is on the same page as the David Thompson plaintiffs, who have already said they will “vigorously oppose” the state’s motion. Here’s more from the Statesman:

It is unclear how much delay the recusal motion will add to the school finance case, begun in 2011. Court rules require the motion to be heard “as soon as practicable,” even allowing a hearing to be held by conference call, with briefs and documents to be submitted by fax or email.

If the new judge denies the recusal motion, Abbott may appeal, but an order to remove Dietz from the case may not be appealed.

Before the recusal motion, Dietz had been expected to rule by late June or July.

A judge has been appointed to hear the arguments for this. Hopefully, we’ll get a ruling soon, as well as an updated opinion in the lawsuit.

Waco finally adopts non-discrimination policy for LGBT city employees

Very glad to see it.

Without fanfare or controversy, the city of Waco has quietly agreed to bar discrimination against city employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

City Manager Dale Fisseler said Monday he has made an administrative decision to add sexual orientation and sexual identity to the city’s internal personnel policy on nondiscrimination.

The policy already bars discrimination based on the federally recognized categories of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status and disability.

“All I’m doing is updating our internal policy . . . just to clarify that we don’t discriminate based on sexual preference and identity,” Fisseler said.

A handful of local pro-LGBT activists, led by Paul Derrick and Carmen Saenz, had been seeking the change since 2013.

The city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee last summer recommended the policy revision. Then-City Manager Larry Groth turned it down, saying in a February letter that the city has never had a grievance or complaint about LGBT discrimination.

“I believe the policies clearly convey the message to our employees that discrimination and/or harassment is not allowed to any class even without a list,” he wrote to the advisory committee.

But Fisseler, who succeeded Groth in March, said his correspondence with Derrick in the last month gave him reason to reconsider.

“I agreed with Larry at the time, but I’ve been offered some additional information I don’t think he had,” Fisseler said.

[…]

Fisseler was city manager in Fort Worth in 2009 when the city council there passed a much more sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance that gave LGBT residents protections not only in municipal employment but private-sector employment, housing and public accommodations.

Saenz, who worked with Derrick on the Waco policy, said she ultimately would like to see a broad nondiscrimination ordinance in Waco, but she thought it necessary to take smaller steps.

Saenz, a psychology professional who identifies as lesbian, said she hasn’t experienced discrimination in Waco, but in the last year she has heard from city employees who feel pressure at work to keep their same-sex relationships a secret.

“The bigger picture is that we wanted to show that the city of Waco treats everyone equally,” she said. “It reflects to the state and the country that we don’t discriminate. It’s good for business, and it’s good for kids growing up gay, lesbian or trans that this is a place where you can live your life authentically and go to work.”

See here and here for the background. I confess, I lost track of this after the Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee voted to recommend the change – I just assumed it had been adopted. My bad there. Be that as it may, this is a nice step forward after the victory in Houston, and I too hope that once the locals realize that the earth is still spinning on its axis a push can be made to adopt a similar comprehensive ERO for Waco as well.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 2

The Texas Progressive Alliance celebrates the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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