Houston police oversight board scrutinized
Houston's Police Oversight Board was named one of the least effective in the city. Photo by Houston Public Media.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said that work is underway to restructure a civilian police misconduct review board, which was under scrutiny for not being effective at holding officers accountable.

An overhaul of the Independent Police Oversight Board, or IPOB, was one of the main recommendations addressed in a Turner-commissioned policing reform task force, which published findings of its review in September.

Since then, community activists have called on Turner to begin implementing many of the policy recommendations. But many allege Turner isn’t moving quickly enough and hasn’t kept the public in the know about what’s underway. 

Turner said that was not the case.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“We are working internally to restructure that. It will be restructured,” Turner said, referring to the embattled IPOB, which was long referred to as a ‘toothless tiger’ by activists that said the board is far too aligned with the interests of the Houston Police Department.

“There will be more people added to IPOB/Civilian Review Board. In addition, we’re putting in place something like an Office of Inspector General, along with a staffing person,” Turner continued, adding complaints reviewed, “won’t just come internally, they can come from the public and the Office of Inspector General will have the responsibility of investigating and working in conjunction with the civilian review board.” 

It has been over 120 days since Turner’s task force unveiled its policy recommendations – 104 total – which include increased training for officers to respond to mental health crises, changes to the disciplinary process for officers accused of wrongdoing, increased focus on community policing, among other suggestions.

Turner said he expected changes to IPOB to be introduced in the coming months, but said a solid date has not been set. That’s drawn criticism from community activists who accuse the mayor of dragging his feet.

“My thought process is that we’re stagnated,” said Ashton P. Woods of Black Lives Matter Houston. 

Ashton P. Woods, March 18, 2020. March 18, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Woods, along with other community activists, have said they’ve worked for years to see some of the reform policies come into fruition and argues change can begin now.

“Many of the recommendations from this advisory council, much like others, looks like it’s collecting dust on the shelf,” Woods said.

Mayor Turner denied that allegation and cited other reform measures already implemented that have made a difference.

“As you know, I signed the Executive Order and made it an obligation for, say, police officers who see other police officers doing something wrong, they are required to intervene,” he said. 

Turner said the city also provided additional funding to the Crisis Intervention Response Teams (CIRT), specifically for domestic violence.

Turner added the city’s IT department is also working on developing a dashboard for reporting cases of police brutality. Moreover, Cite and Release and Safe Harbor Court have been implemented.

“We’re approaching things from multiple levels,” Turner said.

But the push for policing reform also came with a call for transparency – including throughout the reform process. Woods said thus far the activist community has been kept out of the conversation, despite helping to design many of the recommendations.

“He gave an affirmative to how he would handle that. We’ve seen no action. We’ve seen no meetings. No invitations. Nothing,” Woods argued.

Houston’s IPOB is ‘one of the least effective in the state,’ according to a recent report. 

The report, released last November by Rice University’s Kinder Institute, concluded Houston’s police oversight board was among the least effective in Texas. It reported the panel suffers “from a lack of data access, a lack of independence, uncertain legal status and a complete lack of transparency and public reporting.”