Abbott proposes cities be held liable for crimes committed due to police negligence

Last month, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner apologized for HPD using a “lack of personnel code” assigned to more than 264,000 reports, leading to them being dropped.
Greg Abbott, Austin, Texas, March 15, 2023

After the Houston Police Department dropped hundreds of thousands of criminal incident reports, including for violent crimes, due to “lack of personnel,” Gov. Greg Abbott proposed that cities be held liable for crimes impacting their citizens due to negligence.

He first called for the state to impose consequences for police failures to investigate violent crimes. He said, “250,000 crime victims in Houston never even had their crime investigated. That includes thousands of sexual assault victims. The state must impose consequences for this neglect and provide solutions to prevent acts like this that allow criminals to go free.”

After it was reported that the HPD dropped a rape case and the perpetrator allegedly committed another rape, Abbott said the city should be held responsible: “Houston police dropped a rape case claiming staff shortages. The criminal later committed another rape. He should have never been roaming free on our streets. The kicker: He is here illegally. I propose cities be legally liable for this negligence.”

Last month, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner apologized for HPD using a “lack of personnel code” assigned to more than 264,000 reports, leading to them being dropped.

The dropped incident reports dated back to 2016. Finner confirmed that at least one sexual assault victim, whose case was dropped, committed suicide.

Mayor John Whitmire on Wednesday apologized for HPD’s “terrible mistake” that is “affecting the victims” when he announced the members of his newly created Independent Review Committee. He created the committee to assess an internal HPD investigation into the fiasco. Members include former city council member Ellen Cohen, Texas Ranger Captain Jeff Owens, a city deputy inspector general, Christina Nowak, pastor Leon Preston II and city attorney Arturo Michel.

Whitmire also raised concerns saying the hundreds of thousands of dropped crime reports manipulated the city’s crime rate. Previous claims that the city’s crime rate dropped was really “spin,” he said, “because the credibility of the data collected by HPD and released to the public for at least the last eight years is flawed.”

Whitmire also reiterated his commitment to ensuring transparency, maintaining the public trust, and prioritizing the victims who reported crimes. In his first few months in office, he has already begun reversing policies of his predecessor, pledging to make public safety his number one priority.

Abbott’s call for state action isn’t the first time he’s weighed in on city policing issues. After the Austin City Council defunded its police department in 2020, he called on the Texas legislature to pass law enforcement bills. They passed “Back the Blue” bills in 2021, which he signed into law and went into effect in 2022. The bills impose several consequences to cities and municipalities that defund law enforcement, including freezing property tax revenue, losing annexation powers, and allowing the state to withhold sales taxes collected by the defunding city and giving to the Texas Department of Public Safety instead.

Other bills enhance penalties for those who commit aggravated assault that result in devastating brain or spinal injuries, for catalytic converter theft, for illegal street racing, for parolees who remove their ankle monitors, for crimes committed against health-care workers, among others.

Abbott has also surged DPS resources to help Austin Police Department officers deal with increased crime as well as launched a street takeover task force.

He also signed a bill into law filed by then state Sen. Whitmire, which amended the law to require trial courts to prioritize hearings and trials for murder and capital murder offenses.

Both Abbott and Whitmire have worked together from different sides of the aisle over the years to prioritize public safety, including funding police departments and cracking down on crime.