The Houston Police Department recently issued a revised use-of-force policy and unredacted portions of the policy that described how and when officers can use batons and if/when they can shoot at moving vehicles.

Chief Art Acevedo made multiple changes to the use-of-force policy – revisions in response to nationwide calls for police reform in the wake of the death of longtime Houston-resident George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Potential law enforcement reforms

In addition, Mayor Sylvester Turner has created a 45-member community task force to review the new use-of-force policy and identify potential police reforms.

Acevedo said the policy revisions reflect Turner’s executive order that requested new restrictions on the use of force by officers, including the following:

  • A requirement for officers to de=escalate, give verbal warnings and exhaust options before uses of deadly force
  • A requirement for officers to intervene when they witness police misconduct
  • A ban on chokeholds
  • Prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles

Changes in wording

A Houston Chronicle review of the revised use-of-force policy found “changes throughout” but also a number of cases in which policies were effectively the same though they had been reworded.

Council member Letitia Plummer said that pressure applied on the department had prompted the release of an unredacted policy. “The pressure is working,” she said. “We just have to keep our foot on the gas.”

The unredacted portion shows that officers are allowed to carry batons to events “where there are a large number of persons” and when answering disturbance calls. The wording in the revised policy is identical to the previous policy, stating that officers can officers can in some circumstances carry a flashlight to use as a baton.

Officers can bring their own

The policy on pepper spray is reworded though effectively the same, saying that officers can carry their own spray as long as they’re certified to use the spray by the police academy.

According to the newspaper, the now-unredacted policy on fleeing vehicles has been reworded, but is effectively unchanged. It states that officers can’t fire a weapon at a suspect’s vehicle unless someone in the vehicle is threatening another person with something other than the vehicle (such as a gun).

An officer can also shoot at a vehicle if the driver is “deliberately” trying to hit the officer or a pedestrian, but only if “all other reasonable means of defense have been exhausted.”

The department also released a description of how the use of force by officers is to be reported.