HPD's jurisdiction often overlaps with several other law enforcement agencies, among them the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Harris County Constable Precincts. HPD is the largest municipal police department in Texas.
According to the HPD's website, "The mission of the Houston Police Department is to enhance the quality of life in the City of Houston by working cooperatively with the public and within the framework of the U.S. Constitution to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear and provide for a safe environment."
The current chief of police is Harold L. Hurtt.
The early part of the 20th century was a time of enormous growth for both the City of Houston and for the Houston Police Department. Due to growing traffic concerns in downtown Houston, the HPD purchased its first automobile in 1910 and created its first traffic squad during that same year. Eleven years later, in 1921, the HPD installed the city's first traffic light. This traffic light was manually operated until 1927, when automatic traffic lights were installed.
As Houston became a larger metropolis throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the HPD found itself growing and acquiring more technology to keep up with the city's fast pace. The first homicide division was established in 1930. During that same year, the HPD purchased newer weapons to arm their officers: standard issue .44 caliber revolvers and two Thompson submachine guns. In 1939, the department proudly presented its first police academy class. The Houston Police Officers Association (HPOA) was created in 1945. This organization later became the Houston Police Officers Union .
Throughout the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, the HPD also experienced its own highs and lows. The first HPD bomb squad was created in 1966. The next year, 1967, saw massive riots at Texas Southern University. During the riots, one officer was killed and nearly 500 students were arrested. It was as a result of these riots that the still-active Community Relations Division was created within the HPD. In 1970, the Helicopter Patrol Division was created with three leased helicopters. That year also marked the department's first purchase of bulletproof vests for their officers. The HPD's first Special Weapons and Tactical Squad (SWAT) was formed in 1975.
In 1982, the Houston Police Department appointed its first African-American chief of police, Lee P. Brown. Brown served as chief from 1982 to 1990 and later became the City of Houston's first African-American mayor in 1998. While Brown was considered a successful chief, he also earned the unflattering moniker "Out of Town Brown" for his many lengthy trips away from Houston during his tenure .
Brown's appointment was controversial from the start. Traditional HPD officers frowned upon Brown because he was an outsider from Atlanta, Georgia where he was the police commissioner; to become the police chief in Houston, an officer has to advance through the rank and file although the "good old boy" culture was prevalent.
The HPD paved a new road again in 1990 when Mayor Kathy Whitmire appointed Elizabeth Watson as the first female chief of police. Elizabeth Watson served from 1990 to 1992 and was followed by Sam Nuchia, who served as police chief from 1992 to 1997. In 1997, Clarence O. Bradford was appointed as chief. In 2002, Bradford was indicted and later acquitted of perjury charges, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly lied under oath about cursing fellow officers . Since late 2007, Bradford is the Democratic nominee for Harris County District Attorney where he will be facing a Republican opponent (either Kelly Siegler or Patricia Lykos; the incumbent, Charles A. 'Chuck' Rosenthal, resigned prior to withdrawing his candidacy due to an e-mail scandal).
The current chief of police is Harold L. Hurtt. Hurtt was appointed to the position by Mayor Bill White. Hurtt had previously served as the chief of the Phoenix, Arizona, Police Department . Hurtt's appointment was similar to former chief Brown - he was also an outsider who was not an HPD officer.
Since 1992, the Houston City Marshal's division, Houston Airport Police, and Houston Park Police were absorbed into HPD. In early 2004, during Mayor Bill White's first term in office, HPD absorbed the Neighborhood Protection division from the City of Houston Planning Department, which was renamed the Neighborhood Protection Corps in 2005.
HPD divides the city into 13 patrol divisions. Each division is divided into one or more districts and each district is divided further into one or more beats. Stations are operated and staffed 24 hours a day. HPD also operates 29 store front locations throughout the city. These store fronts are not staffed 24 hours a day, and generally open at either 7:00 or 8:00 AM, and close at 5:00 PM. Downtown Houston (the 1A10 beat) is patrolled by the Special Operations Division, not Central Division.
A map of all stations and store front locations can be found at the HPD web site: PDF map of stations, divisions, districts and beats
The Houston Police Department operates a non-residential, Monday through Friday police academy from which all cadets must graduate in order to become Houston police officers.
There are currently full-length academy classes for those cadets that have not been commissioned as peace officers within the previous year to applying with HPD. These cadet classes typically last approximately six months and consist of the basic peace officer course as required by the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) and HPD specific instruction.
Lateral classes are typically in the academy for half as long as regular cadet classes. These lateral cadets are already TCLEOSE certified or have the equivalent out-of-state certification. They require mostly supplemental HPD instruction in order to graduate.
All cadets, whether regular or lateral, are required to pass HPD instruction in academics, firearms, driving, physical training, and defensive tactics.
Academy class ranking plays a significant part in determining which training station newly-minted Probationary Police Officers (PPOs) will be sent to in order to complete the Field Training Program.
The following patrol stations are considered training stations:
The following patrol stations are not considered training stations:
The Field Training Program consists of six phases which occur in the following sequence:
PPOs that successfully complete Phase 4 are not required to continue onto Phase 5 and 6. PPOs that are required to continue onto Phase 5 are given remedial training in the category or categories that they are deemed deficient in. If a PPO fails Phase 5, they are disqualified from becoming a police officer, and must reapply to the department. Phase 6 is required to ensure that they have corrected the deficiency.
The probationary period for PPOs last for one year from the date that they were hired on as cadets. At the one year point, officers become civil service protected.
These are the ranks of the Houston Police Department:
Moreover, those with the rank of sergeant or above are issued gold badges whereas officers are issued silver badges.
After 12 years of service and obtaining a level 3 training certification, an officer becomes a senior officer, which is a non-supervisory rank. Promotion to sergeant through captain all occur via a civil service formula that factors into account performance on the civil service written examination for the respective rank, assessment score, length of service, and education of the HPD member. Assistant chiefs of police and executive assistant chiefs of police are appointed by the chief of police with the approval of the mayor.
As of April 13, 2008, HPD has lost 105 officers in the line of duty. 102 were from the currently existing agency and one was from the Houston City Marshal’s Office and another officer was from the Houston Airport Police Department. Those two agencies were later absorbed by HPD.
The officers were killed in the following manner:
Beginning in early 2003, the HPD Crime Lab began cooperating with outside DNA testing facilities to review criminal cases involving cases or convictions associated with Crime Lab evidence. However this again came as a result of some prompting investigatory work done by the tv station KHOU. Not long after their first broadcasts, reporters David Raziq, Anna Werner and Chris Henao got an e-mail from a local mother. She was desperate. She told them that her son, Josiah Sutton, had been tried for rape in 1999 and found guilty based upon HPD Crime Lab testing. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. So KHOU began to take an intensive look at the Sutton case. Raziq and Werner analyzed the HPD lab's DNA report with the help of DNA expert Bill Thompson of the University of California-Irvine. They found terrible and obvious mistakes in the report that the lab should have known about. When the reporters presented this new information to the local jurists who had helped convict Sutton, they were mortified. Not long after that broadcast, the HPD agreed to an immediate retest of the DNA evidence in the Sutton case. Those tests showed the DNA collected in the case did not belong to Sutton. He was released from prison in March 2003 and given a full pardon in 2004.
As a result of the scandal, nine Crime Lab technicians were disciplined with suspensions and one analyst was terminated. However, that analyst was fully reinstated to her previous position in January 2004, less than one month after her December 2003 termination. Many HPD supervisors and Houston residents called for more stringent disciplinary actions against the Crime Lab employees. However, the city panel responsible for disciplining the lab technicians repeatedly resisted these arguments and instead reduced the employees' punishments . Irma Rios was hired in 2003 as Lab Director, replacing Interim Lab Director Frank Fitzpatrick.
In May 2005, the Houston Police Department announced that with much effort and coordination on their part, they had received national accreditation through the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD). The ASCLD stated that the lab had met or exceeded standards for accreditation in all areas except DNA . Through independent research and testing, it was determined in January 2006 that of 1,100 samples reviewed, 40% of DNA samples and 23% of blood evidence samples had serious problems . As of April 2006, the DNA section of the Crime Lab remained closed.
The program was initially very unpopular among Houston residents. Frequent complaints were that the program unfairly punished lower-income motorists by enforcing a high towing fee and that the program could potentially damage vehicles that required special tow trucks and equipment to be safely towed away. Other complaints were that stranded motorists did not have an option to choose their own garage. The City of Houston and the HPD addressed these concerns with program improvements that provided funds to pay for short tows that removed stalled vehicles from the freeway and then allowed drivers to choose their own garage and tow companies once they were safely off the freeway .
Studies released in February 2006 indicate that Safe Clear has been successful during its fledgling year. There were 1,533 less freeway accidents in 2005, a decrease of 10.4% since Safe Clear's implementation .
The history of red light camera enforcement goes back to the 78th Texas Legislature where this measure was voted down although a transportation bill authored by a member of the Texas House of Representatives had an inclusion of red light camera enforcement. In December 2004, the Houston City Council unanimously voted for red light camera enforcement although Texas State Representative Gary Elkins (R-TX) introduced legislation to deter the City of Houston from amending its city charter for the city ordinance (i.e. red light cameras) to be enforced. This measure failed in the Texas Senate although in 2005, four intersections in Downtown Houston were used as testbeds for red light camera equipment. After a vending contract was approved, the enforcement went online September 1, 2006 to which those running a red light (there are 50 locations ) are fined a $75 civil fine as opposed to a $225 moving violation which goes against the vehicle operator.
On August 28, 2006, Mayor Bill White and Chief Hurtt held a press conference in response to red light camera enforcement - the measure will result in funding future HPD Police Academy cadet classes due to the shortage of manpower.
Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo stated (at the same press conference) that motorists who use anti-red light camera deterrents (e.g. license plate shields and/or anti-glare coatings) are in violation of state law - a bill authored by TX Senator Jon Lindsay (R- District 7) during the 78th Legislature which became state law in September 2003 makes altering the appearance of a state-issued license plate within the State of Texas a crime. This includes license plate frames (usually installed by car dealers to collegiate affiliations) to plate covers - Lindsay authored the bill in response to scofflaws who use the EZ Tag lanes on toll roads under jurisdiction of the Harris County Toll Road Authority where fare evasion is rampant.
There are 50 intersections with red light cameras in the City of Houston with 70 cameras (20 intersections were added where dual cameras were installed). A majority of them are located at a thoroughfare at a freeway intersection - primarily in the Galleria and Southwest Houston. During a recent Houston City Council meeting on 6.11.08, councilmember James Rodriguez suggested the installation of an additional 200 cameras.
Besides Houston and Garland, Austin, TX is modeling its red light cameras after the City of Houston, which goes online in February 2007 (source - Texas Cable News).
This is part of the Mayor's ongoing plan to improve mobility in Houston and is the first of its kind in the United States. The city's mobility response team will cost $1.8 million a year to operate.
Hurtt to spend an $24 million on overtime pay through 2010. The money would continue to bolster an understaffed force as police commanders try to increase their ranks.
The overtime that is planned would be about equal to 500,000 police hours of which would help bolster various departments including, vice, Westside patrol and traffic enforcement, among other areas including a new 60-member crime reduction unit that will serve as a citywide tactical squad.
The police chief said the effort will put more officers to work immediately in troubled areas of the city such as Third Ward and Acres Homes, where the bodies of seven women have been found in the past two years.
The crime rate, particularly for violent offenses, since the latter part of 2005, when an influx of hurricane evacuees increased the city's population by more than 100,000, and incidents spiked in certain neighborhoods.