Harvey heroes: HPD Chief Art Acevedo reflects on storm

HPD Chief Art Acevedo
↓ Advertisement ↓

On Aug. 26, when Harvey slowly hovered over Houston, HPD Chief Art Acevedo was out in it. As the rain beat down and floodwater filled the Greenspoint area, he broadcast live on social media.

“I wanted people to see there is no exaggeration here,” he explains.

That night, standing in chest-deep water and watching his officers pull people from flooding apartments, is when Harvey hit the chief.

“I realized, ‘Holy moly. This is just starting and look at what we’re dealing with already,’” Acevedo says. ”I had never experienced that and I knew we were in for some challenging times.”

↓ Advertisement ↓

He says that’s why he and his wife Tanya decided to send his 9-year-old son Jake to Austin, where the family lived before Houston. Acevedo says his son’s former school even invited Jake back, so he could get started on classes since Jake’s Houston school was delayed.

His family safe, Acevedo’s priority was making sure his officers stayed that way too. But on August 28, he learned Sergeant Steve Perez went missing on his way in to work, his car swallowed by the water.

“It still bothers me because ultimately I’m responsible for him and his family. You question yourself,” says Acevedo.

During a disaster that demanded difficult decisions be made constantly, he easily recounts the toughest choice: waiting to retrieve Sergeant Perez’s body after the water receded.

“We had to make that decision knowing in our heart of hearts where he was at,” Acevedo says. “But we couldn’t risk lives for what we knew was a recovery, not a rescue. We had to leave him in that muddy water, knowing he was there in his full uniform.”

It wasn’t until nearly two weeks later - after Perez’s family and his police family laid him to rest - that Acevedo says he finally slept.

In the months since the storm, he’s reflected on how his department and this city responded to Harvey.

“The silver lining for me was a renewed belief in the goodness of humanity,” says the chief.

In his position, Acevedo is open about his thoughts, opinions and even emotions. He says the day that changes will be his last in uniform.

“At the end of the day, we are in the people business,” he says. “Our most important asset is the people we serve and the people we lead.”

Acevedo says you can question his decision or his position on issues, but he argues you’d be hard-pressed to question his heart.