Houston Chief Worried Over Residents Filming Officers
Texas officers Nathan Godfrey, David Schimidt, Abraham Martinez and Boyd Lamb, stand behind yellow tape as authorities investigate the scene where a suspect, who is now deceased, allegedly shot two Liberty County Sheriff's deputies in the Woodland Hills c
The Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix
February 18, 2011
HOUSTON – Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland went on the defensive Thursday during a meeting with local journalists, saying officers have made recent traffic stops in which residents leave their vehicles to take pictures or shoot video — encounters he says could endanger officers and that have increased following the release of the Chad Holley beating footage.
“Officers are telling me that they’re being provoked,” the chief said. “Even when they try to write a simple traffic ticket, people are jumping out with cell phone cameras scanning their badge numbers and their nametags. And I’ve asked them to remain calm and treat people with respect and dignity.”
McClelland said he is concerned that an intensifying anti-police sentiment in the community could increase negative interactions between Houston Police Department officers and residents.
“This rhetoric can give someone a free pass to try to assault a police officer or kill a police officer, and I’m not going to allow that,” he said. “My officers should be able to go out here and work in the neighborhoods and keep this city safe without fear and without hesitation.”
And, the chief implored the community – naming himself, activists and journalists – to “lower the rhetoric.”
But community activists who have been involved in organizing two town hall meetings this month strongly disagree with the reasons why the police chief may be receiving more reports about people documenting encounters with police.
Activist Quanell X called the chief’s reaction to this increasing phenomenon “inappropriate.”
“I believe citizens have a legal, constitutional right to record and film police officers in the line of duty. I don’t see anything wrong with the public recording,” Quanell X said. “I believe no decent police officer has anything to be afraid of. I believe the rogue cops who like to beat, kick and stomp people may have a whole lot to worry about.”
The chief, who leads a force of 5,300, said the vast majority of officers do not brutalize people.
“I certainly think there has been some piling on lately, and it’s unfair to the other 5,300,” he said. “I don’t want to give anyone a free pass to assault a police officer. And I don’t want to give the police officer a free pass to overreact.”
But Pastor D.Z. Cofield, president of the NAACP Houston branch, said residents are responding in the best way they can – by creating their own record of events.
“I hope Chief Charles McClelland recognizes that what his officers are now complaining about is a fear many of the citizens of Houston have lived with for decades,” Cofield said. “And while it may be true that the vast majority of the 5,300 HPD officers do not brutalize citizens, far too many are complicit because they sit silently by with full knowledge of those who do brutalize citizens.”
McClelland said HPD’s internal affairs division has many videos that “show the violent nature of police work,” but that he is prohibited by law from releasing them to the public as others have done with footage that shows police behaving badly.
“I can’t cherry pick and show me a good video of the week and say look at this police officer being assaulted,” he said.
As evidence that HPD is policing itself, the chief points to the figure that 70 percent of complaints lodged against officers each year come from police managers and supervisors. The rest come from the public.
“I respect the opinion of citizens, individuals, activists that are out there in the community,” McClelland said. “I certainly haven’t had my head stuck in the sand and I am listening to what they’re saying and their complaints.”
He implored residents and leaders to “be responsible” in their words and their tone.
“We can’t pit the community, and especially the minority community, against the police,” the chief said.