Lords of discipline E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

There is a wide array of schools of thought regarding the best way to run a law enforcement agency particularly when it comes to the issue of discipline. Some bosses are heavier on the stick than the carrot and vice-versa. But at the end of the day it’s up to the top-cop in terms of the best way to manage his or her agency.

According to a recent article in The Houston Chronicle, one thing that can not be said about Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland is that he’s a pushover when it comes to policing his police officers.

With three years in command on the job in Houston, McClelland has fired 63 officers and disciplined almost 1,300 for less serious infractions.

The numbers are from internal affairs records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The records indicate that McClelland's pledge to maintain the public's confidence and trust by punishing officers in the 5,200-member department who break rules and laws wasn’t just tough talk.

Of the officers who were disciplined, McClelland suspended 464 without pay and reprimanded more than 820, according to the numbers.

Another 983 officers were ordered by the chief to receive counseling from their supervisors.

For cops working in smaller agencies those numbers might seem high but they’re similar to the numbers of cops fired and disciplined by previous leaders.

McClelland’s predecessor Harold Hurtt terminated 58 in his last three years on the job while suspending and reprimanding roughly the same number as the current chief.

The amazing part is that McClelland has been able to maintain union support despite the aggressive discipline. But that is not to say that union leaders are critical of some of the chief's actions; most notably those would include two highly publicized cases in which they believe the chief's punishment of some officers involved was unwarranted.

"Overall, we believe that he has been fair when it comes to discipline," said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "However, we have disagreed with him on some disciplines and have taken it to an arbitrator when we disagree."

Hunt went further, adding that the public should be pleased with the large number of disciplines handed out by HPD's internal affairs division because that’s solid evidence that the department is serious about policing the conduct of officers.

"HPD leaves no stone unturned when investigating officer misconduct, no matter how minor that misconduct may be," Hunt told reporters with Houston Chronicle. "You might get an officer accused of putting on handcuffs too tight, and the investigation might come back with six other violations. It's called conduct not alleged."

Hunt said independent hearing examiners usually overturn or reduce 60 percent of the punishments on appeal, but said that most officers do not challenge the discipline they receive.

McClelland spoke about discipline at a recent press conference.

The chief was asked why he chose not to fire a police sergeant and three traffic officers he recently suspended for unnecessarily listing themselves as witnesses on hundreds of traffic tickets in order to get overtime for testifying in municipal court.

Payroll records showed the four earned $943,000 in overtime since 2008.

"The Houston Police Department has a philosophy that we use the least intrusive means or measures of discipline to correct behavior," McClelland said. "There are some things that are so egregious that officers must be dismissed, the first time and the only time they do it. We certainly will not tolerate any kind of criminal or illegal behavior. But I have to weigh, can these officers be productive police officers and members of this organization again?"

According to the Houston Chronicle article, fudging records to get overtime for testifying in court is one thing. Shaking down dealers and selling the drugs thereafter is something else.

Just recently HPD internal affairs arrested two patrolmen on charges they were stopping drug dealers and stealing their products for resale.

"Let's not forget who made these arrests - they were arrested by Houston police officers," Hunt said. "We are policing ourselves, and we do a very good job of it. You're seeing a 5,200-member department, and the humans in any 5,200-member organization are going to make errors."


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