Houston Police Department, suspended cases, investigation, police chief

Controversy Surrounds Houston Police Department As Chief Resigns Amid Investigation

Troy Finner resigned as the Houston Police Department has been embroiled in a scandal over the department improperly ending 250,000-plus cases.

Houston’s Police Department has been embroiled in a scandal over its use of an internal code, which it improperly used to denote that cases were dropped due to a lack of personnel. The code/phrase “suspended: lack of personnel” or “SL” was used to dismiss incident reports. This blunder resulted in four executives losing their jobs or resigning, including its most recent police chief, Troy Finner, who resigned on May 7. 

According to the investigation, over 250,000 cases have been suspended due to a lack of staffing at HPD Headquarters.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, even though Finner said in 2021 that he instructed staff to stop using the code, by that point, it had become so ingrained in the fabric of the department that it had the opposite effect. HPD spokesman Kese Smith told the Chronicle shortly before Finner resigned that although the code was no longer in use, the chief wanted the department to do more. “Chief Finner has said there will be drastic changes to the culture and operations of the department to move past this and stands by his commitment to investigate every violent crime,” Smith told the outlet.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Finner share a close relationship, which Whitmire alluded to in a statement regarding his acceptance of Finner’s retirement in the middle of an investigation. Finner was revealed to have responded to an email containing the phrase “suspended-lack of personnel” in 2018, which contradicted his earlier statements about issuing the instruction in 2021. This prompted him to have a conversation with Whitmire, and he said Finner chose to retire on his own. 

“It was the final straw. I think that can certainly be an honest statement,” Whitmire said of the 2018 emails. “I was sick when I saw the recent email, but I don’t have time to be sick. I have to protect this city and lead, and it can’t be driven by personality. Chief Finner is a friend, and it was very painful to see someone retire in the middle of their assignment.”

Whitmire continued, “It had become… disruptive to the department. I talked to many officers at every level of the department; this had become the dominant focus of so much of HPD’s staff. Part of the consideration is that the current investigation and suspended cases had become such a distraction that I was convinced that the department had lost some of its focus to address hot spots and response time.”

While Whitmire seems hopeful that Finner’s retirement will shift focus from the investigation, questions remain from those who have been impacted by the department’s controversial policy of abandoning investigations it did not seem to want to deal with. As NBC News reported, Hai Bui, the founder of an activist group, We the People Organize, was relieved about Finner’s retirement but also expressed a desire for clarity from the police department about how it will spend a $6 million grant from the Department of Justice. 

“I was relieved. The buck stopped with him. We’re very happy that the chief did the right thing.” Bui continued, “The community deserves clarity on how every dollar has been spent and how many officers have been hired, particularly in areas critical to public safety.”

In addition to Bui, Sonia Corrales, the deputy CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, a center designed to help people involved in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, wants to ensure that the survivors of sexual violence whom the department ignored are no longer ignored.

“Today, more than ever, we have to make sure we’re standing up for survivors, ensuring that this kind of thing does not happen again,” said Corrales, who also told NBC News that some sexual assault survivors whose investigations had been dropped by the department over the lack of staffing they cited in their internal documents, had been connected to her organization.

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