Sheila Jackson Lee, colleagues address police reform

To help bridge the gap between the Black community and the police who serve them, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and the Policing Strategies Working Group (PSWG) met with public leaders to address such issues as police accountability, aggression toward law enforcement and public safety concerns.

PSWG is a 12-member bipartisan congressional delegation comprised of House Democrats and Republicans. Houston is the third city the working group has visited.

The meeting was held at the Mickey Leland Federal Building, where Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Metro Police Chief Vera Bumpers and activist Quanell X took part in the closed-door discussion.

Congressman John Conyers, member of PSWG and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who also introduced the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act in 2015 said, “finding ways to improve relations between police and the public is an extremely high priority.

“..Despite the current political climate, it is necessary that we continue an open dialogue on building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” he said, adding that the working group has a long way to go if they want to find consensus on new police standards or training.

Some hot topics uncovered during the discussion included bail reform, neighborhood policing, law enforcement practices, and Mayor Turner’s Complete Communities Initiative.

Jackson Lee, who also serves on the PSWG, said Houston is “far ahead” in addressing the divide between the police and the areas they serve. However, she feels the conversation is necessary to address other matters.

“We have a lot of people in jail because they cannot afford bail,” Jackson Lee said. “They’re locked up on non-violent charges and are taking up space. This is a crowding issue that needs to be addressed,” she said, adding neighborhood policing was another major talking point.

“There’s a necessity to invest in community policing. We want to make sure officers are members of the same community they’re policing to build better relationships.”

While the PSWG tour of “gathering community information” is a work in progress, the key is to capture a wide-scale perspective on public matters and then find ways to address them, Jackson Lee said.

“The eventual plan is to craft legislation to address some of these issues we’re gathering that are surrounding criminal justice reform…These issues will ultimately be brought to the full House,” she said.