Above the law: HPD officers told to ignore subpoenas

A recent Houston Chronicle story outlines the deserved low public opinion of a new Houston Police Department court appearance policy. Specifically, HPD officers are instructed not to show up in court until 1pm on trial days, even if the subpoena says 8am or 10:30am.

Unlike the police officers, defendants (the citizens on trial) are not allowed to leave the courtroom except for bathroom breaks or to put money in the parking meters. (Or possibly for lunch at noon, though the story does not mention this in particular.) Of particular note is this part of the story (emphasis added):

[Mark] Adlam [a defendant awaiting his speeding ticket trial that day] said that under the previous policy, his lawyer would quickly know if the complaining officer was available to testify. If an officer did not show, Adlam said, prosecutors would have no choice but to dismiss the ticket.

[Gary Blankinship, t]he head of the Houston Police Officers Union said the new policy — which was distributed late Friday and took effect Monday — will lead to massive gridlock of the municipal court system, as well as exposing officers to possible arrest for ignoring a lawful subpoena.

Normally I do not so readily concur with someone representing law enforcement, But when the HPOU leader sees the potential for officers to be arrested for ignoring the subpoenas, it’s obvious the policy is on its face illegal, in addition to being bad for the public opinion of Houston’s government.

Specifically, that opinion is that the potentially five-hour-long wait now encourages more citizens to just plead guilty so they can go back to work. Note that if a defendant does not show for trial, they are subject to an immediate citation for failure to appear (class C misdemeanor). Not surprisingly, the cops can come and go as they wish.

To his credit, the HPOU president, Gary Blankinship, has told officers to do what the subpoena says and disregard an “illegal order” by the chief. I admire and respect that, but at the same time, I recognize that an unwillingness to back down to Mayor Annise Parker and Chief of Police Charles McClelland is bound to come with its own share of consequences. Indeed, doing the right thing is against one’s best interests so often it’s not funny.

In case anyone’s wondering, this kind of thing is why I did not vote for Annise Parker for mayor. I would like to think Gene Locke would have handled this better.

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