HOUSTON -- The Houston Police Department has high approval ratings, according to a poll of voters conducted in conjunction with KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio.
A generation ago, you would've heard everything from anger to dread to dismay for a police force driven with racially-charged brutality and cover-ups of deadly crimes. A lot of Houstonians didn't like and didn't trust their police force. Today, though, it's a different story.
About three out of four surveyed Houstonians -- 76 percent -- approve of HPD's performance. Only 19 percent disapprove. (The remainder either didn't have an opinion or wouldn't respond to the question.)
"Crime is down," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said. "Houstonians feel safer. The crime rate being down doesn't make you feel better if you've been the victim of a crime. But we've worked very hard over the last few years to improve our pro-active response to crime and also to do a better job of getting boots on the ground."
The police department's high approval ratings are an important example of good news for a mayor plagued with problems. Crime has consistently ranked among the top concerns of Houston voters, and trouble in the police department has long been a potential minefield for Houston mayors.
A closer look at the poll data reveals an interesting schism between the races in Houston. Anglos overwhelmingly support their police, with 82 percent of surveyed voters approving of HPD's performance. So do African-Americans and Hispanics, but by smaller margins. About 67 percent of African-Americans and 68 percent of Hispanics surveyed approve of HPD's performance.
"But it's still probably the highest rated department or agency," said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who supervised the poll. "Higher rated than the city council, the mayor -- clearly -- and any other agency or department in the city."
That's despite the recent bad news emanating from the department, such as the videotaped beating of burglary suspect Chad Holley. The tape eventually went public, airing repeatedly on local television and causing city leaders to worry about the prospect of anti-police riots. Seven officers were fired over the incident and four were slapped with criminal charges.
"They're being punished for it now," said Houstonian Lavetta Diggs. "And you can see it, because they're televising it. And the mayor is making it known, the police chief is making it known, they're not tolerating that kind of foolishness within their department. So I love it."