AT LARGE POSITION 4

Candidates responding: Bill Baldwin, Dr. Letitia Plummer, Michelle Bonton, Tiko Hausman

Municipal Court Fines & Fees, Community Service

The Houston City Council and Mayor sets policy for the municipal courts in Houston. These courts hear only Class C Misdemeanors - including such common offenses as minor traffic offenses, public intoxication, and violating other municipal ordinances.


As a City Councilmember, would you eliminate the practice of jailing people just for failure to pay fines and fees to the municipal court, if they are indigent?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Would you make one of the performance review issues for municipal judges their treatment of citizens who lack the ability to pay fines? For instance, the decision on whether to rehire municipal judges could include a review of whether they are jailing people for fines and fees related to Class C Misdemeanors or whether they are appropriately waiving fines or converting them into community service when people cannot afford to pay them.

James "Joe" Joseph: Performance Review of judges should be based on their ability to apply the law. While discretion is maintained in many cases, we may adjust that discretion or eliminate it by law as the best standard for influencing outcomes and holding judges accountable to principles encoded in law.

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Would you end or reform the Omnibase program, which is a city contract that allows the municipal court to put a hold on people renewing their drivers’ licenses if they have not paid City of Houston Municipal Court fines or fees?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Reform

More than 68,000 warrants for failure to appear and 23,000 warrants for failure to pay were issued by the Houston Municipal Court last year. Would you support reducing warrants for the arrest of people charged with Class C Misdemeanors who fail to appear in court or fail to pay a fine?

James "Joe" Joseph: Low-level Non-violent offenses would be fair game for reducing warrants on Class C Misdemeanors. However, such changes beg the question of how or whether Class C Misdemeanors would be enforceable or how best to enforce those measures. Without meaningful enforcement, why have laws on the books? How would that deter such crimes? If it is not worth meaningful enforcement, then perhaps it is not worth consuming our police and legal system with. If it is worth enforcing, then sufficient measures are needed to that end. I would welcome discussion on whether Class C Misdemeanors are relevant enough and how we may have meaningful enforcement if they are.

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Decriminalizing Homelessness

Most Texas cities currently criminalize people for activities they cannot control when they are homeless. For instance, the City of Houston has a "No Camping" ordinance, but no provision of what people can do if they are homeless. Other such offenses include No Sitting or No Lying in a public walkway.

Would you vote to decriminalize the daily activities of people experiencing homelessness?

James "Joe" Joseph: This matter is hardly so binary as it is asked. There are ways to decriminalize homelessness without leaving people in harm’s way. Some public spaces where I have seen children are too close to vehicular traffic on streets. Strategic partners for Continuums-of-Care may assist in placing those who need shelter as well as other needs. There are risks that we may address to prevent those who are homeless from being left on the streets or public walkways without criminalizing them.

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, I will work to decriminalize homelessness

Cite and Release Policies

Texas state law allows local police departments to develop policies under which police may issue a citation instead of arresting someone for certain Class B and Class A Misdemeanors. Such "cite and release" eligible offenses include Driving with an Invalid License, Possession of Marijuana, and Theft (between $100 and $750). However, most city police departments lack policies that empower officers to use cite and release on a regular basis, and therefore, jails are filled with people who were booked in on these low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Will you ask the Houston Police Department to implement a broad cite and release policy?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

De-Escalation and Use of Force by the Police Department

Other government agencies control many aspects of criminal justice, but the Houston City Council has the most direct control over policing by the Houston Police Department.

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department make their “Use of Force” policies public?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to limit the use of choke holds and strangleholds to situations where deadly force is authorized?

James "Joe" Joseph: No

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using force, especially deadly force?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, when possible

Will you advocate that HPD revise its use of force policies to restrict shooting at moving vehicles unless the occupants of the vehicle are using deadly force?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require that officers exhaust all other means before shooting?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, when prudent

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to intervene and stop another officer from using excessive force?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, when prudent

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to report all uses of force including threatening a civilian with a firearm?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require de-escalation of potentially fraught situations?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to provide specific guidelines for when certain levels of force are authorized?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you work with the Houston Police Department to implement training in de-escalation techniques for all officers?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you commit to asking the Houston Police Department to develop a policy to release body worn camera video of critical incidents?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Informing people of their rights post-SB 4

SB 4 makes it illegal to instruct law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE.

Will you implement a policy so that before police ask about the immigration status of anyone they have lawfully detained, they inform such persons of their right to remain silent?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, and would include in such policy, racial and cultural sensitivity training and implicit bias training.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

Several cities across the country have begun using LEAD programs to avoid arresting people for offenses including prostitution, drug possession, and mental health issues. LEAD programs allow law enforcement officers to connect people directly to the services they need instead of arresting them.

Will you work with the Houston Police Department to implement a LEAD program?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes


Police Accountability

The Houston Police union contract will be renegotiated in 2020.

Will you negotiate a new police union contract in 2020 that will end the mandatory waiting period before an interview begins in the instances of potential police misconduct?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes, to the best of my ability.  Transparency and accountability are important to me. 

Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will eliminate technical reasons for dismissing complaints, such as limited timeframes to report complaints and other issues like this?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will eliminate the practice of giving officers unfair access to information about complaints? For instance, in Houston, the current police union contract entitles officers to see witness statements *before interrogation*, a benefit that no ordinary defendant gets.

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you negotiate a new police union contract in 2020 that will ensure that there is full civilian oversight over the police department and disciplinary procedures?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will ensure that misconduct is not erased from police records?

James "Joe" Joseph: Yes

Bill Baldwin: Yes

Dr. Letitia Plummer: Yes

Tiko Hausman: Yes

Tell us about your law enforcement and criminal justice priorities.

Of the issues listed above, what would be your top priority to work on? Why?

James "Joe" Joseph: Community policing, functional consolidation of duplicate city, county, and other local law enforcement and crime labs, and improving clearance rate. We need to make sure the crooks are not communicating better than the cops and improve our ability to prevent and solve crimes.

As president of the organization founded by former Mayor Lee Brown, Blocks Organizing Neighborhood Defense I led the effort to get over 300 street lights turned on and my community went without a murder for over 2 years. I will advocate for programs that encourage safer communities.

Bill Baldwin: I think that we should reform the Independent Police Oversight Board. It is currently not set up to be the best tool for oversight, it's decision-making is too opaque to the general public and it is unclear what work they are doing on two of our most important issues: HPD's use of force policies and avoiding racial profiling.

Dr. Letitia Plummer: I would prioritize eliminating the practice of jailing people just for failure to pay fines and fees to the municipal court if they are indigent. Court fines and fees unequally effect affluent and indigent people because for indigent, these fines and fees are often unaffordable. When an individual cannot pay their fine and are jailed, their jobs and families are put at risk. The fines and fees are also often doubled or tripled when an individual cannot make the initial payment on time, furthering a cycle of debt. Furthermore, our jails are already overcrowded. We need to turn our attention towards more sensible solutions such as building robust community service and debt-relief programs.

Tiko Hausman: 

  • Decriminalizing homelessness and poverty (inability to pay fines and fees) and providing solutions for problems that lead to both. Houstonians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter their hardship.

  • Cite and release for low-level marijuana possession. Jailing citizens for marijuana use and possession unnecessarily ruins lives and disrupts families.

  • Providing officer training for de-escalation, racial sensitivity and implicit bias. All citizens deserve the ability to live their lives without fear of being profiled, injured or killed due to their skin color, culture, mental illness or other outward appearance.  Officers also deserve training that help them to keep themselves and the citizens they serve safe and alive.

Are there any additional important issues of law enforcement and criminal justice that you want to push? Why? Please talk about specific policy changes you would seek.

James "Joe" Joseph: Mentoring youth and community education programs, as I have promoted through my non-profit, Neighborhood Enrichment Xchange, goes a long way toward crime prevention.

We may also consider how the right bail reform measures may enable law enforcement to stay focused and effective at reducing the crimes that count the most.

I would also advocate for better city lighting that:

  • reduces street glare for police night patrols

  • increases visibility and safety

  • improves video capture quality on security cameras

  • reduces crime with fewer dark shadows for criminals to hide

Bill Baldwin: I think our coordination with other law enforcement jurisdictions should be a priority. This includes everything from ensuring our Cite and Release policies are consistent with the County's to working toward a more centralized dispatch even involving METRO Police. This will ensure we are best utilizing taxpayer dollars and that our region's citizens are being treated fairly across jurisdictions.


Dr. Letitia Plummer: I believe officer issued guns should be fired as a last resort, not as a first response, so I would push to require officers to exhaust all other means before shooting. According to Seth Stoughton, a former police officer writing in The Atlantic, police training focuses more on the safety of the officer over anything else, despite out of the 63 million interactions between officers and civilians, on average 51 officers are killed in the line of duty. That makes a rate of .00008%, almost negligible. The easiest way to stop officers using guns as their first reflex is by changing the training, according to Stoughton. I would also work with HPD to ensure their officers are trained in de-escalation techniques, require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using force, and advocate strongly for enhanced anti-discrimination training. We must make every effort to proactively train our officers in order to prevent dangerous and unjust situations, protecting both our officers and citizens.

Tiko Hausman: No additional issues for consideration, at this time. 

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