Troy FInner being officially sworn in as Houston's police chief

Troy Finner has always had a passion for serving. But it was a Criminal Justice class at Sam Houston State University that led the Houston native to his hometown police department. Now, more than three decades after joining the force, Finner is facing his toughest job yet, as the new police chief responsible for leading the 5,200-member police department, and 870 civilian personnel.

The Defender talked with Finner about his plans for the department, how he is ready to tackle a fractured criminal justice system, mend relationships in the community and reduce the crime rate.

Defender: You admit that leading the department is a heavy lift, but you’re ready for the task. What is your first order of business?

Troy Finner: We have to build trust. A lot of people talk in terms of transparency right now. And we know we have a lot of work to do in that. We’ve got great relationships here in Houston with the police in our community, but there’s always room for improvement. A lot of other things are going on around the nation right now, controversial cases. And that has direct ties to Houston. So we have to be planning and concerned about everything.

Defender: The Derek Chauvin case has riveted the country and shined a light on rogue police officers. How do we keep something like that from happening here in Houston?

Finner: You have to pray, first of all. Because we’re in a dangerous society and police work a lot of times, is not pretty, and I’m not gonna butter that up. We have our problems here in the city of Houston, but the sanctity of life has to be number one. That has to be driven down from me and everybody else. We have to make sure that we have policies and procedures set in a way that everybody is able to go home safely. Now, I do know that there are going to be those occasions when somebody loses their life or gets seriously hurt. We want to really minimize that through a lot of good communication, a lot of training and conversations between our community and police officers.

Defender: Most of these issues with Black people and police could be prevented if police took a  deescalation approach. Is that something you plan on increasing training with?

Finner: It’s how we’ve been trained. And we’ll continue to do that. And we continue to improve. Deescalation is in all parts of training now. And we’re always looking for ways to even improve on that. Sometimes deescalation is just learning how to talk to people. You know, your initial contact with the public. If you just calm down, slow down, explain things to people, it can help. And let’s be honest, you go in the neighborhoods. I’m from the hood. And I’m very proud of it. It’s not a lot of money, not a lot of prestige in some of these neighborhoods. The only thing a man has is his name and his pride. And that’s what I try to drill down. Young police officers understand that, respect that even when somebody is wrong, and you won’t have a whole lot of problems. If you talk to people, right, treat them right, it’s going to get you through the day. Now, there are those occasions where you just run up to somebody and they are intent on having conflict with you and not listening to what you. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. So deescalation is learning more than anything, how to respect people, slow down and give them some dignity.

Defender: Community policing is a big part of your platform. How do you do that effectively?

Finner: Basically, every contact that you make with a person, you have to understand that is a contact where you can gain respect and fuel trust. But I go a little bit deeper than that. When people from all communities can say, “Hey, that’s my chief,” “Those are our police officers,” “That’s our department,” when you get there, I think you have arrived. And that’s what I’m really striving to do.

Defender: How can the community help you achieve your goals?

Finner: We have to get more involved. People sometimes beat up on the police about this crime. And look, I’m always taking responsibility. I’m the chief, the buck stops with me and we have to do better in driving those crime numbers down. But I told people and I meant it. It’s a heavy lift and we can’t do it alone. Everybody needs to get involved. If you see something, you say something. Don’t be afraid. Have enough trust in us. Be a good witness. Because today the crime or the death may be at your next door neighbor’s door. And if you just turn a blind eye to that and don’t get involved, tomorrow it might be at your door. So, we all have to get involved. And especially our men, our young men and middle-aged and older men. Take control of your block. It takes a village to have a safe city, and it should be a lot of villages.

Defender: How do you plan to tackle racism in the Houston Police Department?

Finner: Just like there is racism in society, I believe it filters into police departments. Now, do I think it’s systemic in HPD? Do I think it’s out of control? No, I don’t. Most police officers are good people. But I’m also not going to just turn a blind eye on a racist officer. We can’t tell someone what to think, but when you act out and you speak out and that ugliness comes out, we’re going to handle you. There’s no place for it in a police department for a racist individual. So, I have no problems and I will make no apologies when we get rid of racist officers. And I don’t care what race you are.