Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt is planning to resign at the end of the year, two days before Mayor-elect Annise Parker takes office.
Hurtt, who has been Houston police chief for almost six years, confirmed Tuesday night that he told his command staff earlier in the day of his plans to resign Dec. 30 because of the changing administrations at City Hall.
“I’m sure everybody anticipated it,” Hurtt said of his command staff’s reaction to the news. “They live in the real world. I’m sure HPD will survive without Harold Hurtt.”
Parker had said throughout her campaign that she would fire Hurtt and intended to replace him with someone from within the Houston Police Department. She has said she planned to “shake up” HPD, replacing what she called outmoded ways of thinking with an increased reliance on technology and decentralizing police work.
Parker said Hurtt will name an interim replacement who will take over HPD after he departs while she launches a search for a new police chief. She said she hopes to meet with Hurtt, sit down individually with members of HPD’s command staff and seek input from the Houston Police Officers’ Union and Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union.
She said she has no particular candidate in mind.
Hiring a new chief from inside the department “has always been my intention,” Parker said Tuesday. “But if I cannot find the person that I want, I will look outside.
“But we have a first-class police department, and we are one of the largest police departments in the country and we have some excellent candidates, I’m assuming, in the department. It clearly sends a message when you bring somebody in from the outside that you have a department in trouble — and I don’t think we have a department in trouble. I think we have some challenges because of understaffing and other things, and I just want to take it in a new direction,” Parker said.
“I want a chief who has the respect of the officers, but is willing to rethink how we’ve been policing, to commit to a more decentralized mode of operation, who will commit to working more cooperatively with other regional law enforcement agencies,” she said.
Hurtt, 63, who earned $199,893 in 2007 based on public payroll records, said he has “not entertained” the idea of leading a police department in another city. He said he is exploring employment opportunities, which he declined to specify or even generally describe.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” he said of his future, adding that he doesn’t know if he will continue to live in Houston.
He began serving as Houston police chief in March 2004 after Mayor Bill White hired him away from Phoenix, where Hurtt had been police chief for six years.
Hurtt expressed pride in some achievements during his tenure here, such as improving public safety. “Unfortunately, we had to do it with a lot of overtime,” he said. “I would have liked to have had the staffing that we have today throughout the entire period of time that I was here — we could have done more. We could have done more investigations, we could have done more crime prevention, we could have done more with the community. But you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”
Hurtt pointed to other steps made under his leadership, such as construction of a new property room and a new South Central patrol station, the opening of a new Mounted Patrol facility, technological advances such as the 24/7 Crime Center and the ongoing implementation of a radio system that will allow communication with other law enforcement agencies.
Hurtt also equipped all HPD officers with tasers and is credited with restoring the troubled DNA section of the department’s crime lab to full accreditation, after past administrations allowed a leaking roof to contaminate the facility.
Critics said he didn’t spend enough time in Houston and never firmly entrenched himself here, partly because of his frequent trips back to Arizona and his extensive real estate holdings there.
Hurtt’s tenure at HPD was marked by a succession of public safety crises, beginning with a 25 percent hike in the number of homicides in 2005 following an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees into the city.
And many HPD officers were angered by Hurtt’s orders not to detain illegal immigrants they encountered in Houston, especially after several officers were killed or severely injured by undocumented suspects. Hurtt insisted a change in the city’s long-standing policy would not only stop immigrants from helping police investigate local crimes, but tie up officers and significantly increase response times.
Police union officials had little respect for Hurtt, and friction developed over firings and disciplinary actions ordered by the chief — rulings which were often overturned later.
It is routine for an incoming mayor to replace the police chief, particularly when police and crime have been hot-button issues.