AT LARGE POSITION 5

Candidates responding:  Michelle Bonton, Sonia Rivera, Eric Dick, Ashton P. Woods, Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr, Catherine Flowers

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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, Repeat violators may still get jail time.

Catherine Flowers: 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.


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?


Michelle Bonton: I would be supportive of this, but would want to ensure that there is a plan in place to ensure accountability on the part of all citizens

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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?


Michelle Bonton: I support this, but would want to ensure that there is a plan in place to solicit payment of the fines to ensure accountability on the part of citizens

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, However, we cannot be rewarding people for ignoring Court proceedings. Arrests are too harsh, but we need other effective consequences.

Catherine Flowers: 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?


Michelle Bonton: If by daily activities you mean just sleeping/living in public spaces yes. I do think that we need to study the property crime rates (breaking and entering) in areas where there is a high homeless population. I also think that there do need to be some zones/areas in our city where public living is not allowed

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, We cannot afford to criminalize homeless and arrest homeless persons, and we need to be more creative in our help.

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, Again, as long as we create better, more effective consequences for violations. We cannot simply ignore violations, even if low-level.

Catherine Flowers: Yes for first time offenders


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes and petition for additional training


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?

Michelle Bonton: YES, emphatically. I also think that "when possible" needs to be defined as much as it can be

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes

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?

Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?

Michelle Bonton: Yes, unless the officer's life is in in danger or the life of another person is in danger

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: It may feel like "if you give an inch, they will take a mile" but some discretion must be allowed since situations sometimes escalate too quickly for an officer to go through a progression of responses to finally arrive at shooting.

Catherine Flowers: Yes

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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, Other officer may be the "best" entity to intervene to stop excessive force.

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes, I think reporting use of force at certain levels is more appropriate to ensure that officers do not end up spending more time filling out reports than they spend protecting citizens

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: I would need to review this further.

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: Yes, I believe cameras should be on 24/7.

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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes, Police do not currently ask immigration status

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes, Is that not already covered in the Miranda statement?

Catherine Flowers: Yes


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: I need to further evaluate the this process.

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Why is this wrong? This seems like due process.


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?


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: 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.


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: 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?


Michelle Bonton: I am open to negotiating a contract that has an oversight committe with civilian representation

Sonia Rivera: No

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes


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


Michelle Bonton: Yes

Sonia Rivera: Yes

Eric Dick: Yes

Ashton P. Woods: Yes

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Yes

Catherine Flowers: 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?


Michelle Bonton: Defining when deadly force is acceptable AND holding people in jail just because they can't pay the bail or a fine. These would be equally top priorities because they disproportionately affect poor and minority citizens.

Sonia Rivera: My top priority is to increase the number of police officers that Houston currently has, many incidents may be avoided if officers have the appropriate support to effectively do their jobs, I would also include more training opportunities to address the issues that our officers are experiencing as social issues continue to evolve.

Eric Dick: Police not arresting people in for using drugs. These people need help and not a criminal record. Work with HCDE's Fortis Academy (public school for controlled substance users).

Ashton P. Woods: RIght now all of the issues above are my priority, but I would start with decriminalizing homeless people and work on ways to end homelessness.
It is inhumane to not provide multiple forms of transitional housing, not to provied access to mental health services and etc. I believe that forcing people to keep their items in a 3x3x3 box and making it hard to have food sharing services to feed homeless people, we should be providing facilities that are equipped with lockers that can be used as an address for when one seeks employment and when applying for services like a gold card. There are a myriad of things that we should be doing about homelessness that puts people first.

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: Limiting arrests for low level offenses. Arrests are too harmful and disruptive to persons ultimately deemed innocent or for whose offenses are ultimately settled by fine or community service. I am also in favor of the City adopting what the Texas Legislature this year failed to adopt in spite of a majority of legislators favoring it: the prohibition of arrests for misdemeanors punishable only by fines. This bill was inspired by the Sandra Bland tragedy, and had it been in place, she would have received only a ticket and moved on with her LIFE. Even though Texas missed its chance this year, there is nothing keeping the City of Houston from adopting this protection for its citizens.


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.


Michelle Bonton: I will be a passionate advocate of "banning the box" and other second chance programs that allow ex-offenders to become contributing members of our society once they have served their time.

Sonia Rivera: N/A

Eric Dick: As a trustee at HCDE, I helped start our county's first public recovery school. Houston should partner with HCDE and reduce arrests for drug usage to 0.
https://blog.hcde-texas.org/2017/08/16/hcde-board-names-first-public-recovery-high-school-in-county-fortis-academy/

Ashton P. Woods: I want to ban the box once and for all as well as decriminalize cannabis in a way that requires those incarcerated be released, all records expunged and first in line opportunites to start a business. Banning the box would remove one of the biggest barriers to access when it comes to housing, a criminal background check... and employment access would also greatly improve.

Dr. Marvin McNeese, Jr: As we talk about more police officers being added, I will work for more senior officers to be dedicated to investigating crimes, so as to solve more crimes. That's the missing link in our system. We don't have enough officers following up on the evidence of crimes actually committed, especially serious crimes other than homicides.
I don't believe that we need more officers on patrol, even though HPD has a "low" number of officers. Combining all the area police departments together gives us over 11,500 officers. What we need is all departments on the same frequency, so that when 911 is called, all officers in the area (regardless of department) can respond.

Catherine Flowers: Several months ago my youngest employee was standing next to a young man that was shot in the head at a local lounge. I reside in Third Ward and the sound of gunshots happens far too often.   As a member of the Texas Advocates for Justice youth are our greatest priority. We were intimately involved in the juvenile curfew law discussion. Since its inception, I have served on the Mayor’s Youth Violence Prevention committee. Addressing youth violence would be my highest priority.

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