HPD answers concerns from campus, community
The Cullen Performance Hall saw a different type of audience at 10 a.m. Saturday as the hall and surrounding area were host to Houston Police Department officers and local community members for a town hall meeting.
The department held the meeting not because of any recent controversy or event, HPD Chief Charles McClelland said, but simply to address community concerns and to bring the public up to speed on what the police department has been working on.
The largest topic of discussion revolved around cameras on police vehicle dashboards. While McClelland said HPD had no intention of installing dash cams, the department is outfitting its officers with body cameras. One hundred officers have been equipped with them so far, and real footage, ranging from a typical traffic stop to a domestic violence call, was shown to the audience.
Above all, McClelland discussed HPD’s successes. The city’s rape kit backlog has now been cleared, and according to McClelland, violent crime overall has decreased.
“Although we understand one murder is one too many, but nevertheless, we still managed 2013 with a decrease in murders, rapes and aggravated assaults,” McClelland said in his speech to the audience.
“The only violent crime category that has a slight increase over 2012 was robberies, and that was a slight increase of 5 percent.”
McClelland and other HPD officers answered questions from local community members. In the light of the numerous instances of police brutality that have swept national headlines — including, as one audience member brought up, the 1977 murder of Houstonian veteran Joe Campos Torres — several people asked McClelland how HPD will hold its officers accountable upon abuse of their powers.
Despite the location of the meeting, neither the members of the audience nor McClelland discussed UH. They did, however, have advice on how to remain safe on campus.
“What (HPD needs) to do is just collaborate with UHPD, because we have started that partnership (and) it’s basically just HPD and UHPD working together and educating the community, not only outside of UH but on campus itself,” said Joe Sanchez, senior police officer with South Central HPD.
Both Sanchez and McClelland emphasized the importance of not keeping items such as laptops visible in cars, because of the high trend of car thefts.
“What we encourage people to do is not to leave anything in their cars, whether it be a car or even a towel covering the item,” Sanchez said.
Such crimes are typically handled by UHPD when committed by students. That is not the case for those not connected to the campus.
“Day-to-day burglaries and robberies that normally (are) not generated by students on this campus is by folks on other areas — that’s where we have to collaborate and share crime information,” McClelland said.
“UH police do a fairly good job on following up on some of these cases, but there are some times when we are looking for someone, and they’re looking for someone, they have to work very closely with the South Central division, the sheriff, crime information, pictures, things like that.”
In response to recent muggings on campus, McClelland warned students to stay alert.
“We have a motto at HPD: ‘If you see something, say something.’ You should always report any type of suspicious activity to your campus police,” McClelland said.
“Any time that you feel like you’re uncomfortable with a situation, reporting is key and vital, so not only HPD, but the University police can start linking these cases together and know where there’s a problem.”