DISTRICT I

Candidate responding: Richard James Gonzalez

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?


Richard James Gonzalez: [Left Blank]

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.


Richard James Gonzales: Certainty of punishment is the only method of changing wrong behavior, therefore community service is the least amount of punishment that is acceptable.


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?


Richard James Gonzales: No


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?


Richard James Gonzales: If a person has multiple citations and does not appear in court as promised, then only one warrant for failure to appear should be issued, not one failure to appear per citation.


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?


Richard James Gonzales: We cannot selectively enforce the law.


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?


Richard James Gonzales: No, Being soft on minor crimes will lead to much bigger problems.


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?


Richard James Gonzales: 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?


Richard James Gonzales: No


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?


Richard James Gonzales: This policy already exists

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?


Richard James Gonzales: This policy already exists


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


Richard James Gonzales: This policy already exists

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?


Richard James Gonzales: This policy already exists. In fact, it is against the law for the officer not to intervene when he or she observes this type of action.


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?


Richard James Gonzales: This policy already exists

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


Richard James Gonzales: Officers are fully aware fraught situations and therefore no policy is needed


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?


Richard James Gonzales: Use of force policies exist and are sufficient.

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


Richard James Gonzales: These techniques are already being taught in the academy.


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


Richard James Gonzales: As long as the investigation is complete. Nothing should interfere with an ongoing investigation especially critical incidents.


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?

Richard James Gonzales: I would expect law enforcement to work with ICE who are law enforcement as well


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?

Richard James Gonzales: Mental health is not a crime, prostitution and drug possession are.

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?

Richard James Gonzales: No, Currently the accused officer is given a 48 hour notice. There is no purpose for this process to end.

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?

Richard James Gonzales: I support an investigation be conducted in a timely fashion, in many cases the timeframe is much to long for minor infractions.

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.

Richard James Gonzales: No, Officers should have the right to know who and what he or she is being accused.

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?

Richard James Gonzales: No

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

Richard James Gonzales: Misconduct is only removed if the officers’ sustained misconduct is overturned, but not in all cases.

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?

Richard James Gonzales: I would revisit the amount of supervisors being promoted vs the amount of patrol officers working on our streets. The safety of our citizens and officers cannot be jeopardized at the cost of promotions. Safety first.

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.

Richard James Gonzales: The questions asked above has put our police in a bad light. Why are police being attacked by your questioning? Yes some policies may need to be changed, however many policies are already in place that cover many of the questions that were asked.

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