Katz: A way to get Houston’s police chief out of mayoral politics

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This is another of our occasional series of guest posts/essays on local topics of interest to us and our readers. Feel free to submit topical posts/essays for our consideration to bloggers-at-bloghouston.net. As with our usual blog posts, the views expressed are those of the author.


by Howard A. Katz

Houston’s strong mayoral government has led to a succession of police chiefs who are most notable for being the political puppets of whichever mayor happened to be in office. Houston will soon be saying goodbye to Mayor Bill White and the city will also be saying goodbye to police chief Harold Hurtt who will be returning to his beloved city of Phoenix.

There is a much better way to select police chiefs than to have them appointed by a mayor who requires that the first priority of his police chief is to make sure that the police department does not get in the way of his political ambitions.

The City of Houston should establish a police commission for the purpose of selecting the city’s police chief. That commission would not only select the chief, but it would also establish general guidelines for the police department. The chief would then be free to operate within those guidelines, absent of political interference. The commission would also be able to fire the chief, but only for malfeasance in office and only if he fails to follow the guidelines or turns out to be incompetent.

To ensure their independence, the members of the commission should be elected rather than appointed by the mayor, as is the case in Los Angeles.

The City of Houston should be divided into five police commission districts. Candidates for a seat on the police commission would run for office in each district. A candidate would have to show proof that he/she had been an actual resident within his/her district for a minimum of five years. The election should be non-partisan — no candidate should be identified as Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Marxist, or whatever.

The police commission can be established at little cost to a city. Its members should be paid only one dollar a year plus their out-of-pocket expenses. In this way, only the most civic minded candidates would run for that office. The commissioners should not have to meet more than once a month unless some emergency would require additional meetings. As for staffing, the commission would only need a secretary, probably a part-timer at that.

By having a five member police commission make the selection, the Houston police chief would be free from political interference, thus allowing him to run the police department in the best interests of all Houstonians.

Howard A. Katz is a retired professor Professor of Criminal Justice. He blogs at BarkGrowlBite.

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