Texas

Houston PD Releases Highly Redacted Use of Force Policy to Black Lives Matter, Says It Was AG Decision (Updated)

But the Office of the Attorney General told Reason they had no record of that request.

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HPD

As part of its efforts to support police reform, activists associated with Black Lives Matter have been collecting use of force policies from around the country, and posting them online as part of the broader Campaign Zero effort.

However, one particular use of force policy, from the HPD, came highly redacted when it was requested by Deray McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist. When the Houston Press requested the same document, they received a copy that wasn't.

A spokesperson for the HPD, Victor Senties, told the Press the redactions were to protect officer safety and police tactics. Among the redactions were that officers are required to carry batons when responding to disturbance calls and when working major events, that cops must get immediate medical attention to victims they've pepper sprayed and call a supervisor immediately, and that cops are prohibited from firing warning shoots or shooting at fleeing or suicidal suspects who don't pose an imminent threat to anyone other than themselves.

The Press reached out to HPD for comment, and was told that all record requests go through the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and that decision was therefore made by them. "I'm not going to speak to the policy and explain what's redacted and what's not redacted," Senties told the Press. "It goes up to the AG. They're ones who make those determinations."

Reason filed an open records request for any records related to a request made by Deray McKesson to the Houston Police Department for the use of policy, including any correspondence between HPD and OAG or OAG and McKesson, since McKesson said he had never received a letter from OAG explaining the redaction decisions, which would have been standard operating procedure.

Today, the OAG told Reason that while they have requests from McKesson during the relevant time period, none involve HPD. Senties reiterated to Reason that all requests for records go through the attorney general, and that HPD open records division receives up to 800 requests a month. According to McKesson, HPD responded to his request with the heavily redacted copy just a week after he made it. OAG responded to our request for relevant records in a little over 24 hours. 

In the meantime, a Texas assistant attorney general offered the most likely explanation—that the HPD may have already had a previous determination from OAG about how to redact the use of force document. In that case, they would have been able to use the previous ruling and redact the document the same way for Mckesson. That doesn't explain how the Press received a different copy, but those are questions for HPD, not OAG, to answer.

UPDATE: The version of the use of force policy Mckesson released was originally written in 2008. When it was subject to an open records request then, OAG approved its release in the redacted form. That version was released for all future requests, including Mckesson's, until the use of force policy was revised last September. It was first requested in December, and was released unredacted. That is the version the Press received when it made its request last month.

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  1. If the policy is a secret, then it isn’t really policy, is it?

    1. Look if you knew that cops could shoot you for literally any reason you could exploit that weakness to um…get shot…I got nothing.

    2. +1 Dr Strangelove

  2. Among the redactions were that officers are required to carry batons when responding to disturbance calls and when working major events, that cops must get immediate medical attention to victims they’ve pepper sprayed and call a supervisor immediately, and that cops are prohibited from firing warning shoots or shooting at fleeing or suicidal suspects who don’t pose an imminent threat to anyone other than themselves.

    Bingo. Now I know if I want free medical care, all I have to do is get pepper sprayed at a public gathering. How hard can that be? And if I don’t want cops to be allowed to defend themselves against me when I’m unarmed and heading away from them, all I have to do is claim to be suicidal. They just totally gave away the store.

    1. “And if I don’t want cops to be allowed to defend themselves against me when I’m unarmed and heading away from them, all I have to do is claim to be suicidal”

      Actually funny they had to put this in writing. You’d think ‘don’t shoot unarmed suicidal people in the back’ would be kind of common sense.

      1. That’s the thing. If it weren’t in writing, cops might claim they were just following their training and proced–

        oh, wait.

      2. What if you’re just helping them?

        You know, one bullet at a time.

  3. “When the Houston Press requested the same document, they received a copy that wasn’t.

    A spokesperson for the HPD, Victor Senties, told the Press the redactions were to protect officer safety and police tactics.”

    Clearly when you want to protect police tactics, the best place to send the document is to reporters.

    This story checks out.

    1. “The Houston Police Department does not want you to know about its policy requiring officers to carry a baton when responding to disturbance calls or working a big event. Nor does HPD want you to know that if cops pepper spray you, department policy requires that they get you immediate medical attention and call a supervisor out to the scene. Same goes for the policy prohibiting officers from firing warning shots or shooting at fleeing or suicidal suspects who present no imminent threat to anyone but themselves.”

      I can see why you wouldn’t want BLM to see this policy, since it clearly makes the department look so terrible that they don’t want you shooting at fleeing suspects.

      Morons. The policy seems pretty reasonable, so the only reason this controversy exists is because you people were stupid enough to redact it for no reason.

      1. The policy seems reasonable, but I assume the issue is whether they’re following it. Do they have a history of not calling for immediate medical attention after pepper spraying people, for instance?

        1. Well Nicole, the guy was a thug and probably deserved to lie there in pain for a little while as punishment for his constant thuggery.

          Sometimes cops need to make these decisions on the fly and without any non-police oversight, cop-hater.

        2. Do they have a history of not calling for immediate medical attention after pepper spraying people, for instance?

          How many times have you seen investigations which discover that, despite the official record stating that the officers gave immediate medical attention, video and witness accounts show that they used force to prevent anyone from giving medical attention?

          And nothing else happens.

  4. Police officers? Lying?

    Well, I never.

  5. A use of force policy is about the last thing that should be redacted.

  6. A spokesperson for the HPD, Victor Senties, told the Press the redactions were to protect officer safety and police tactics

    This isn’t a military operation being executed against a foreign government in a time of war. Police tactics should be public information.

    1. The public is a foreign enemy, yo, who puts our cops in danger

  7. It seems like a straightforward case of HPD “not wanting to feed the trolls”

    and now the story is that HPD doesn’t want to admit that they perceived BLM as trolls in the first place.

    The information they requested (originally redacted) is now available. is there any story there?

    If no, is the story = “BLM is being treated as a threatening pariah, and PDs are trying to get around complying with their requests?”

    I’ll take a wild guess this isn’t the first time a group has been given a stiff-arm and a cold-shoulder from cops. It doesn’t excuse anyone’s non-compliance… but doesn’t the same thing happen 1000 times a day in FOIA requests to the feds?

    1. I would say the more important point is that the procedures mean diddly squat if there are no consequences for failing to follow them.

      1. They’re more like guidelines, really.

        1. +1 Pirate

      2. ” the more important point is that the procedures mean diddly squat if there are no consequences for failing to follow them.

        Which is exactly why i asked if there was any story rooted in the discovery of their actual ‘official procedures’

        i.e. – is there any known case where procedure was clearly not followed? and no consequences ensued?

        If there isn’t, then what’s the story?

        That BLM is getting “some resistance to disclosure” from PDs?

        Neither here nor there, but there were times early in my career where i’d request documents/records from govt agencies and be told that i’d need to formally send the request on letterhead stationary to specific personnel and ensure to note whether use would have any anticipted commercial component and provide the entire outline of any future publications that we intended to use the information in as well as the backgrounds/cv of the authors to ensure no potential conflict of interest or .. etc etc.etc.etc….

        …when after weeks of back and forth with the contact person, i simply found the information openly available in a dark corner of their shitty government website. with a note at the bottom saying, “free to use once published”, or some version of the same.

        its *how they roll*.

        1. i simply found the information openly available in a dark corner of their shitty government website

          Sounds a lot like “in the basement in a locked file cabinet behind a door labelled ‘beware of the leopard.'”

          1. +1 towel

    2. The story is “HPD released different versions of the same document to different groups.” The question is whether they were careless in not redacting the version that went to the Houston Press, or petulant in redacting the version that went to BLM.

      1. “The question is whether they were careless… or petulant…”

        And why not both? Its the government, after all.

        If that’s the sum-total of the gripe, i’m not sure why anyone’s pretending that there’s some big scoop here.

        1. Maybe for the same reason that people pretend to dismiss stories about government dissembling because they’re so common rather than because they enjoy seeing people they disagree with get the screw.

          1. ” people pretend to dismiss stories about government dissembling because they’re so common rather than because they enjoy seeing people they disagree with get the screw.”

            Who’s pretending? i’m openly dismissing it because apparently no one’s gotten any screw. Unless you see ‘delays in disclosure’ as some kind of horrible injustice that no one ever suffers unless they’re a special-interest group.

            And please = if you’re going to accuse me of racism, do it like an adult.

            1. Except it wasn’t a delay in disclosure. It was different information being disseminated depending on who asked. If the Houston Press hadn’t requested the policy document, the unadulterated version may never have come out. It’s legitimate to ask why the HPD thought they had the discretion to redact the policy in the first place.

              1. why the HPD thought they had the discretion to redact the policy in the first place

                Gilmore’s point, which he isn’t necessarily making very well, is that the answer is “Fuck You, That’s Why”.

                1. ” the answer is “Fuck You, That’s Why”.

                  Which as we all know is an exceedingly rare occurrence.

              2. “It’s legitimate to ask why the HPD thought they had the discretion to redact the policy in the first place.”

                Who said it wasn’t?

                and (as noted earlier) if it turns out that the redacted portions are trying to cover for any recent policy-violations which have been un-punished…. there might even be an actual story there.

                you’re not going to run with “Well you just hate black people then”? It seemed such a handy device at the time.

    3. The information they requested (originally redacted) is now available. is there any story there?

      You bet.

      Why was it redacted in one release, and not the other?

      Was redacting it a violation of open records laws?

      If so, will anyone be punished for violating the law?

      1. “”Was redacting it a violation of open records laws?””

        That’s an angle i’d never heard. If this was applicable, i’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the story at all.

      2. “a court may not assess costs and fees against a governmental body if the court finds that the governmental body acted in reasonable reliance on a judgment or court order, an appellate court decision, or a written decision of the Attorney General

        – See more at: http://www.rcfp.org/texas-open…..FlrNe.dpuf

        Ed mentioned above that the PD’s redactions may have been based on a prior AG ruling.

        e.g. “the HPD may have already had a previous determination from OAG about how to redact the use of force document.”

        If they subsequently provided an un-redacted version to the press, then i guess the worst you could claim is that they engaged in some bureaucratic snafu? still really doesn’t add up to anything other than paper-shuffling bullshit.

        1. the HPD may have already had a previous determination from OAG about how to redact the use of force document.

          Either they had a written determination from the AG, or they didn’t. Shouldn’t be hard to figure out which. The “may have” makes me think they have no such thing, and are counting on nobody asking them for it.

          Which, so far, seems to be a smart bet, since I don’t see any mention that our highly trained professional journalists asked for it.

          And yes, its fair to ask the AG if they issued such a determination, and if so if the redaction complied.

          Christ on a crutch, does nobody know how ask a followup question?

  8. that cops must get immediate medical attention to victims they’ve pepper sprayed and call a supervisor immediately

    Get on the ground and put your hands in the air!

    cops are prohibited from firing warning shoots

    A bamboo sapling through the chest are a cop’s way of warning you slow down.

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