May 8, 2024 - News

Houston is searching for a new police chief

Larry Satterwhite at a press conference

Houston's acting police chief, Larry Satterwhite, spoke with media yesterday. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Amid a widening scandal at the Houston Police Department, Mayor John Whitmire is now looking for a new permanent chief.

Why it matters: After the abrupt resignation of police chief Troy Finner, Whitmire faces his biggest test yet as mayor to restore the community's trust in the department.

  • An ongoing investigation this year showed the department had closed thousands of incident reports in recent years using the code "Suspended — Lack of Personnel," including sexual assault cases with viable leads.

Driving the news: Whitmire named Larry Satterwhite, a longtime Houston cop and one of the department's top brass, as the city's acting police chief.

  • Satterwhite said during a press conference Wednesday he wants to work with Whitmire during the upcoming budget cycle to find funding for at least 2,000 more officers, echoing the request frequently made by his predecessor.
  • He also wants to deploy more investigators and detectives in the field to better assist patrol officers with developing cases.

The intrigue: Neither Whitmire nor Satterwhite provided a timeline for when a new chief would be named.

  • Satterwhite said he would welcome being appointed permanent chief but conceded Whitmire might choose someone from outside HPD.
  • Dallas police chief Eddie Garcia has already been floated as a potential replacement, sources told Dallas' WFAA.

Catch up quick: Finner launched the inquiry into a handful of closed incident reports in February, calling the practice "unacceptable" and promising transparency throughout the investigation.

  • In the months since, internal affairs investigators discovered officers used the code on nearly 264,000 incident reports since 2016, which include more than 4,000 reports of sexual assault.

Finner's decision to retire after three years at the helm came after several discussions with Whitmire on Tuesday over the publication of an email earlier that day indicating that he appeared to have known officers had been using the code since 2018, well before he had said he became aware of the practice in 2021.

  • Whitmire, who described the latest news stories as the "final straw" for him, maintained he did not ask Finner to resign but also said "we kept the dialogue going to the point that he retired."
  • "It made me sick when I saw the last email," Whitmire said earlier. "I don't have time to be sick. I have to make a decision."

What they're saying: "The last few months of my career were, perhaps, the most challenging yet most rewarding," Finner said in an X post on Wednesday. "It was painful because some victims of violent crime did not receive the quality of care and service they deserved."

  • "But, it was also beneficial because we implemented measures to ensure this never happens again."

Between the lines: Whitmire said he was bent on boosting morale among HPD officers and staff, claiming many had expressed how "disruptive" the scandal had become.

  • He said it will improve "when we get HPD … out of the news and back to crime fighting."
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