DISTRICT C

Candidates responding: Amanda Wolfe, Shelley Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, Sean P Marshall, Gladys House, Michelle Ganz

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?

Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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.

Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?

Amanda Wolfe: Reform, to account for cases where people may have multiple or dangerous moving violations.


Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: No, I would work to reform the program to make sure no one's driving license is withheld simply because they have not paid their municipal court fines or fees. However, I would not eliminate the program. Placing a hold on the drivers' license renewals may be warranted in order to make sure the people assume responsibility for their actions rather than just ignoring the infraction all together.

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: I would work to devise a permanent amnesty/reduced fine program for people that desire to voluntarily resolve their warrant problems for all appropriate misdemeanor crimes. Regardless of the class that the crime falls under. However, I would leave intact the full penalty for those who fail to voluntarily take responsibility for their crimes.

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Homelessness is a very serious issue facing not only Houston but the entire nation. Homelessness should not be a crime. People should have the right to sit and lie in public areas as long as they are not creating a health or safety hazard. However, camping can lead to serious health and safety hazards. The city should prevent homeless camping unless sanitation services are available. With that in mind I support development of public areas with adequate sanitation services where the homeless can safely camp without fear of incarceration.

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: I will ask the police to implement a broad cite and release policy that includes restrictions and guidance. Prior to any "cite and release" issuance the police must check the perpetrator's criminal background and make sure they have no outstanding warrants. A copy of the search results should be included with the citation record. Many misdemeanors may be non-violent but are not necessarily victim-less (such as burglary of a vehicle or shoplifting). In many cases it should be standard policy for the arresting officer to consult with a prosecutor prior to issuing citations and releasing suspects. The City and Harris County should work together to develop proper procedures for any cite and release policies.

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes, HPD already has a policy that officers cannot shoot at a moving vehicle unless the vehicle being used as a weapon.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: There already is a policy that requires officers to report threatening civilians with a firearm as a use of force. There is a specific form that must be filed for any use of force, including threatening civilians with a firearm and failure to do so can result in termination.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: Yes


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

Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes, Policy already dictates that officers can only use appropriate force, but more de-escalation training is needed.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: Yes


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


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: Yes


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


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes, I think we should follow Chicago's example where all incidents reviewed by Independent Police Oversight Board are available online for the public. See www.chicagocopa.org

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: As a council member, I can have input and influence and the power of the vote, but it is the mayor's team that negotiates the contract. They have 48 hours to come in, but there is a not a mandatory waiting period.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: Yes


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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Yes, Again, the mayor's office negotiates the contract. However, if the action alleged is criminal the AG's office will suspend the 180 day time limit.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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.


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Again, the mayor's office negotiates the contract. If city council members had the right to negotiate contracts, Houston would not have had the firefighter debacle. As a member of the Independent Police Oversight Board, I can assure you that we watch all footage of every incident that comes before us. Furthermore, if an officer is determined to have lied, it ruins his career. As things have progressed since body cameras have been implemented determinations are rarely decided based on an officer's testimony alone.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Again, the mayor's office negotiates the contract, however, I know of no police department in the country that allows full civilian oversight over disciplinary procedures. I am a member of the Independent Police Oversight Board which has full civilian oversight ability. Our findings and recommendations are taken to the next level which has a mix of civilan and police repreentation. During my 3 1/2 years as a member of IPOB, I have not seen an officer not be held accountable for any matter that came before us.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: Yes


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

Amanda Wolfe: Yes

Shelley Kennedy: Again, the mayor's office negotiates the contract. Based on my experience with IPOB, these records are maintained because when we receive a file, we see every complaint, even those from which they were cleared, from the officer's first day on the job. It is important to have more transparency and have IPOB findings publicly available to ensure that officers terminated for misconduct cannot be hired elsewhere.

Candelario Cervantez: Yes

Sean P Marshall: Yes

Gladys House: Yes

Michelle Ganz: 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?


Amanda Wolfe: It's honestly difficult to choose just one, as there are so many areas that we need to address in city government in regards to law enforcement and our criminal justice system. So, I'll choose my top three: 1) Suffering and poverty should never, ever be criminalized, nor should direct help given to those who are hurting (through food, spare change, etc) by fellow Houstonians. 2) Our law enforcement officers MUST go through appropriate sensitivity and de-escalation training in order to properly care for and serve the people of our city. 3) Although state government refuses to allow us to be a Sanctuary City (on paper) I believe that it is time for us- including and especially law enforcement - to stand up and not allow our neighbors to be targeted based upon their citizenship status, or profiled based upon their race.

Shelley Kennedy: I am dedicated to criminal justice reform. One of my top priorities is the treatment of undocumented immigrants and racial bias that I have seen in the department. One of the biggest issues facing HPD is the prevalence of implicit and explicit bias against members of minority communities. While most officers are decent and hardworking, the effects of bias are far reaching in our community. As a member of the Independent Police Oversight Board, I have seen one example after another of racial injustice and inequality at the hands of HPD. The way to address these issues is through training, education, and, most importantly, effective policies. It is difficult to eradicate implicit bias in the hearts and minds of people, but enacting policy that puts their jobs and pensions at risk can change behavior. During my time on IPOB we have brought about very positive changes to the Department’s policies including requirements for officers to wear body cameras even when working an off-duty job in uniform. It is important to incorporate the strides we have made at the policy level into the new contract.

Candelario Cervantez: Informing people of their rights post-SB 4 SB 4 made it illegal to prohibit law enforcement from asking about immigration status during a legal stop. But immigrants still have rights under SB 4. This would be my highest priority. Given the current climate, our changing demographics, and reducing fear in our community it is very important that we continue to lead and show the nation that we are supporting all of our community members. We are the most diverse city and are aspiring to be a welcoming and most inclusive city.

Sean P Marshall: My highest priority as an elected official would be the negotiation of a new police union contract in 2020 that will assure that: 1) the reputation of the Houston Police department and the safety of the citizens it protects take precedence in the event of any suspected police misconduct, 2) de-escalation training is an annual component of a police officer's continued education and 3) officers are required to intervene and stop another officer from using excessive unwarranted force. Secondly I will push for procedures so that an officer has to consult with a prosecutor prior to issuing citations and releasing suspects of low-level, nonviolent offenses. We want to assure the safety of our citizens and make sure that anyone who is a risk to themselves or the public is not released.

Gladys House: Unnecessary arrest of one for minor violations. Legal limitations of law enforcement.

Michelle Ganz: The bail system is the top priority of these issues. We should not be negatively affecting people's lives just because they have been accused of a crime and cannot afford bail.


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.


Amanda Wolfe: I will fight to ensure that any member of law enforcement who wrongfully harms or kills a Houstonian to be investigated and prosecuted exactly as any civilian would. While I respect and appreciate our law enforcement officers, no one should be above the law, or continue to work and/or receive a pension, after bringing harm to someone without justification.

Shelley Kennedy: On use of force policy, I would like to ensure that the policy has specific guidelines for use of force instead of the broad language in the current policy. Also, the Municipal Court system can be a pitfall or trap for people. Texas law requires judges to consider ability to pay in relation to sentencing and fines. However, in Houston, according to a report by a committee assembled by Mayor Turner in 2016, “the city uses its municipal courts as a profit center” and disproportionately punishes the poor “due to intense pressure from the City of Houston to collect as much revenue as possible.” While the court is for “fine only” criminal offenses, if people can’t pay, the additional fines can lead to, as exposed in a Houston Press 2016 article, a debtor’s prison. As a council member, I will make sure to confirm judges who have histories of serving the people that are disproportionately impacted by these courts.

Candelario Cervantez: Working hard to ensure our officers have the adequate equipment and training to best support all of our community members. This includes working to ensure we are providing unconscious and implicit bias training that includes identity development training to our officers and staff. This will help ensure we are creating the best police force in the nation.

Sean P Marshall: Harris county is in serious need of additional prosecutors and resources to handle the current court backlog. The city should partner with the county in securing additional funding for the judicial system. Investing in our future is an investment in our neighborhoods.

Gladys House: Texas Department of Criminal Justice needs thorough investigation and changes.

Michelle Ganz: I would like to speak out for the decriminalization of marijuana. I would also like to push de-escalation training and more transparency for the police force. We are living in a society where people cannot trust the police. I believe that there are good cops out there, but we need to empower them to be successful. Better education on de-escalation and cultural sensitivity can give the police the tools they need to better serve the public. We need to find a way to work together to solve these issues. I am a member of the LGBTQIA community and historically the police have not been our friends. My brother was a police officer in Louisiana before he had to medically retire, which I think puts me in a unique position to work with the police, but stand firm against any misconduct.

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