Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland went on the defensive Thursday during a meeting with local journalists, saying officers have made recent traffic stops in which residents leave their vehicles to take pictures or shoot video — encounters he says could endanger officers and that have increased following the release of the Chad Holley beating footage.
"Officers are telling me that they're being provoked," the chief said. "Even when they try to write a simple traffic ticket, people are jumping out with cell phone cameras scanning their badge numbers and their nametags. And I've asked them to remain calm and treat people with respect and dignity."
McClelland said he is concerned that an intensifying anti-police sentiment in the community could increase negative interactions between Houston Police Department officers and residents.
"This rhetoric can give someone a free pass to try to assault a police officer or kill a police officer, and I'm not going to allow that," he said. "My officers should be able to go out here and work in the neighborhoods and keep this city safe without fear and without hesitation."
It's a bit rich for McClelland to blame citizens with cameras and critics of police here. All of this "rhetoric" he's worried about is a reaction to two high-profile incidents in which McClelland's officers were captured on video beating the living hell out of someone. Here's the first video, in which seven officers beat 15-year-old burglary suspect Chad Holley. Seven officers were initially fired, but two are now back on the force. Four have been charged with a misdemeanor. Houston public officials actually went to federal court to prevent the video from being released to the public (and won). When a leaked copy of the video got out anyway, Houston Mayor Annise Parker called for the leaker to be arrested. Because that's what she should be concerned about.
The second video shows a police officer take 27-year-old Henry Madge to the ground and strike him after Madge had been handcuffed in a hospital waiting room. Madge at the hospital for his son's appendectomy, and apparently got into an altercation over the volume on waiting room television.
I've reported here on how rarely police officers face significant discipline from their own departments. But as a local news station reported in the wake of the Holley incident, even on the rare occasions that they do, they're often overturned or the punishments are watered down by arbitration agreements negotiated by police unions.
From all of this, McClelland and Parker apparently believe that the thing we should be most concerned about is that citizens in Houston have the temerity to record on-duty cops. And to criticize them when those videos depict excessive force.