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Chief of the Houston Police Department Comments On Policing Reforms

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Police Chief Art Acevedo has been wearing blue for a long time. He's led the Houston Department since 2016 and before that spent about a decade as chief of the Austin Police Department. Yesterday, he called on those years of experience as a witness in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on police violence.

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ART ACEVEDO: This is an opportunity for all of us to have some tough conversations, to listen, to learn and to enact meaningful reform that is long overdue.

KELLY: Chief Art Acevedo is also president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and he joins us now.

Welcome.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: I will follow up on your words from that hearing about enacting meaningful reform that is long overdue. What does that look like on your force? What do you want to change?

ACEVEDO: Well, I think that what I'd like to change is our policing model. Unfortunately, we have a policing model in the United States - we have 18,000 police departments ranging from a one-officer department all the way to, you know, 38,000 officers in New York. And we need to, once and for all, establish, identify the most critical policies and training regimens that we have to manage as leaders and our officers have to abide by. And we need to have those policies be the same throughout all 18,000 police departments.

KELLY: I want to let you respond to some criticism that has come in. Texas Monthly just did a big profile on you. They write that you sell yourself as a pro-reform police chief but that your record is of a chief reluctant to make fundamental reforms. They go through and say you're not supporting efforts to reduce the use of bail and also your department's response to last week's peaceful protests. How do you respond to those critiques?

ACEVEDO: I think that Texas Monthly, either they have really bad editors that don't fact-check, or they're schizophrenic because...

KELLY: Is there a fact that you dispute in the article?

ACEVEDO: Absolutely. I've been on the record in support of the Marijuana Diversion Program, in support of misdemeanor bail reform. I have been a reformer my entire career, and I look forward to actually putting together a response to Texas Monthly. All you have to do is go back to their December article where they did a glowing review of this police chief. And even their article on my statements in December contradicts what they're saying today.

KELLY: And I don't - we don't want to make this a referendum on Texas Monthly, but just to the specific point about how your department responded to the protests. You know, hundreds arrested, even though on most nights, there was not significant property damage or injuries.

ACEVEDO: No, there wasn't because we actually have a city where the majority of the community is actually law-abiding. The majority of the people actually engaged in First Amendment protected conduct and activity. But let's not kid ourselves. There was violence here against the police. There was property damage. And we have - we're going through thousands of hours of videos, crowdsourcing a lot of videos on social medias to be able to put it all together and to actually push back on that false narrative that nothing - that we overreacted. Now, I'm going to tell you this other truth, is that we didn't do it perfectly. And we're looking for instances where we didn't do the right thing. We will hold officers accountable for those instances as well.

KELLY: To broaden it out from the protests, I want to ask you about one other moment in yesterday's testimony. You used a term that I understand is common in policing. Let's listen.

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ACEVEDO: We must also address the issue of officers who have been terminated with cause only to get rehired by another department. Many of us refer to these individuals as gypsy cops.

KELLY: You were making a point. I know that that practice undermines trust. But that use of the term and the widespread use of - it's a slur. Does that speak to how difficult it is to reform policing?

ACEVEDO: Yeah, it does. But that term is actually used broadly in society, that it - including by the media. I've seen it on CBS, folks talking about it. And maybe what I'll do is I'll start calling it Groundhog Day cops that keep coming back. So - but I think it points out that we live in a society where we're constantly looking to - at trying to lash out at one another instead of trying to move the ball forward together in a unified front.

KELLY: We will leave it there, and we would love to have you back on to continue this conversation. There's so much to talk about.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, thank you so much for joining us.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.