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Houston Police chief apologizes as 264,000 crime reports went uninvestigated

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(The Center Square) – Continuing with his commitment to crack down on crime, new Houston Mayor John Whitmire has appointed an independent panel to review a Houston Police Department investigation into how hundreds of thousands of criminal incident reports fell through the cracks.

More than 264,000 reports, including violent crimes and sexual assaults, weren’t investigated because a “lack of personnel” code was assigned to them, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner disclosed last month.

On Thursday, Finner apologized to victims and their families in a news conference for the failure, saying “this is not the trauma and victims services they deserve.”

“This code never should have been used and it never will be used again,” he said.

The police chief’s apology came one day after Whitmire announced he was forming an independent panel to review what is now an HPD internal investigation into how hundreds of thousands of reports went nowhere.

Whitmire said Finner was “doing the best he can to manage the internal investigation, get to the bottom of it, and hold people accountable,” but he was still appointing an independent panel of “people I also trust to review and validate the outcome and help bring closure to the victims.”

The names of the panel members will be released in the coming days, he said.

Shockwaves went through the community after Finner first announced on Feb. 22 that there were a significant number of adult sex crime incident reports with the “lack of personnel” codes used by HPD’s Special Victim’s Division.

On Thursday, he said there were 4,017 adult sexual incident reports filed since 2016 that weren’t responded to. He has since reassigned 32 investigators from other divisions to review the reports and contact victims. So far, they’ve reviewed over 3,000 and scheduled more than 100 interviews. Since last Thursday, over 100 officers were sent to nearly 700 addresses to locate and interview victims, he said.

He also said if victims filed a report since 2016 but nothing happened, email Specialvictimsreport@houstonpolice.org or call 713-308-1180.

After learning of the thousands of violent sex crime reports that fell through the cracks, HPD then evaluated what other divisions were using the same “lack of personnel” code. The total number of reports found was 264,000.

Finner said it was important to understand that the number totals incident reports, not cases. Not every incident report is a case and not every case indicates a crime was committed.

“We do not have the staffing to investigate every incident, however, violent crimes against person must be the priority,” he said.

Major assaults comprise 109,000 incident reports; 91,000 reports were filed by property and financial crimes divisions. Another 6,537 were homicides, the majority of these were reports of assaults and threats dating to before 2018, he said.

The statute of limitations for sexual assault is 10 years, which is why investigators were prioritizing these cases, he said.

The internal code was created in 2016 and used in two previous administrations prior to former Mayor Sylvester Turner appointing Finner to the chief position in April 2021. When he first learned about the code in November 2021, Finner said he told his senior leadership team to make sure it was no longer used. This didn’t happen and their “failure to follow his directive” is part of an internal investigation, he said.

Whitmire said he was “deeply concerned about how and why this happened. The public wants answers and accountability,” and adding an independent panel “will validate the investigation’s integrity.”

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, a former colleague of Whitmire’s, a state senator for 40 years, said she was “shocked to learn that since 2016, there have been thousands of sexual assault victims in the city of Houston that have had their cases suspended without justice being served.”

She also said, “As we get more information from the Houston Police Department and City Hall, I will be working to determine if legislation is necessary to further protect the rights of victims to have their cases fully investigated.”

Polling has shown that crime is the top priority of Houston voters. More than half polled say the city was “headed in the wrong direction” before Whitmire was elected.

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