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Houston Police chief resigns, mayor 'shocked' by latest investigation’s revelation

Emails obtained by a local news outlet appear to show that chief knew about massive failures in the department well before he said he did.

Published: May 13, 2024 1:42pm

(The Center Square) -

Houston’s police chief has resigned after emails obtained by a local news outlet appear to show that he knew about massive failures in the department well before he said he did. Within hours of issuing a statement about the findings, he resigned.

In February, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner first announced that the Houston Police Department dropped 264,000 crime reports, including violent crimes and sexual assaults, which weren’t investigated because a “lack of personnel” code was assigned to them, The Center Square reported.

In March, new Houston Mayor John Whitmire appointed an independent panel to review an internal HPD investigation into how the hundreds of thousands of criminal incident reports fell through the cracks. When Finner apologized at a news conference for the code being used, he said he first learned of its use in November 2021. He also said he told his senior leadership team to make sure it was no longer used.

According to a report by KHOU 11 News, Finner appears to have known about the HPD’s code use in July 2018 when a report was filed about an April 2018 hit-and-run “road rage” incident.

“The newly surfaced email contradicts what Finner has repeatedly said publicly since the scandal broke this year,” KHOU 11 News reported. “At news conferences on Feb. 22 and March 7, Finner said that November 2021 was the first time he was aware of the code being used. The chief repeated that claim April 2, during a 2-hour off-camera availability with the media and community leaders.”

Finner issued a statement in response, in part saying, “I have always been truthful and have never set out to mislead anyone about anything, including this investigation. Until I was shown the e-mail... I had no recollection of it. Even though the phrase ‘suspended lack of personnel’ was included in this 2018 e-mail, there was nothing that alerted me to its existence as a code or how it applied within the department.”

Hours later, he submitted his resignation to Mayor John Whitmire, who accepted it. Whitmire sent a notification to HPD that he had accepted Finner’s immediate resignation and had appointed Larry Satterwhite as Acting Chief of Police on May 8.

The next day, Whitmire held a news conference to address the issue, saying, “I was sick when I saw the recent email, but I don’t have time to be sick. I have to protect this city and lead, and it can’t be driven by personality.”

He also noted the code had been used under four police chiefs, saying he was “shocked” and “cannot believe that it goes over 200,000 incidents that are not being reviewed and someone didn’t yell ‘fire,’ or come before this council, or talk.”

The lack of violent crime investigations and dropping crime reports, Whitmire has said, likely skewed crime data, meaning the crime rate for the city was actually higher than reported. The previous mayor and Finner had claimed crime in the state’s largest city was declining despite daily news reports indicating the opposite.

“The unreported crimes that go on in the city are striking, that’s the reason I have questioned the crime reports,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire, who has made fighting crime a priority of his administration, began reversing the political logjam of his predecessor within his first few days in office. Since then, he is advocating for the city hiring more police officers and prioritizing helping victims of crime.

“We’ve got to get back to crime fighting, we’ve got to get out of the press, we’ve got to have the officers have good morale,” he said.

Polling has shown that crime is the top priority of Houston voters. More than half polled say the city was “headed in the wrong direction” before Whitmire was elected.

In response to HPD’s failures, Gov. Greg Abbott proposed that cities be held liable for crimes committed due to police negligence.

Both Abbott and Whitmire, a former state senator of 40 years, have worked together from different sides of the aisle to prioritize public safety, including funding police departments and cracking down on crime.

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