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Houston mayor announces resignation of PD chief

The announcement comes as the department continues investigations into the dropping of 264,000 incident reports because of “lack of personnel”

Troy Finner

FILE - Houston Police Chief Troy Finner speaks, Feb. 18, 2024, in Houston. Houston police said Thursday, April 11, 2024, they were still reviewing if DNA testing done in connection with thousands of sexual assault and sex crime cases that were dropped over manpower issues could have led officers to potential suspects and possible arrests. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

David J. Phillip/AP

By Ken Miller
Associated Press

HOUSTON — The mayor of Houston has replaced the city’s police chief as investigations continue into why hundreds of thousands of cases were never investigated, including more than 4,000 sexual assault allegations.

“I have accepted the retirement of Troy Finner as chief of police,” Whitmire said briefly at the start of Wednesday’s City Council meeting, thanking him “for his many years of public service.”

Whitmire, who took office in January, had expressed confidence in Finner after the chief revealed the huge number of uninvestigated cases in February and said he first learned of the problem in November. But that seemed to evaporate quickly after Houston television stations reported Tuesday that Finner had been informed in a 2018 email.

Whitmire said he had committed during his mayoral campaign to keeping Finner as police chief and described him as a friend, “but you have to make tough decisions.”

“The bottom line is the department is being distracted due to issues with the investigation ... from its primary mission of fighting crime,” Whitmire said. He appointed assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite as acting chief.

Several city councilors expressed gratitude for Finner, who joined the Houston police department in 1990 and became chief in 2021. City Councilor Carolyn Evans-Shabazz said she misses him already.

“His commitment to our city has been unwavering,” Evans-Shabazz said. “His efforts have significantly contributed to our community’s safety and wellbeing.”

Finner’s retirement comes as police investigate the dropping of more 4,000 sexual assault cases that are among more than 264,000 incident reports never submitted for investigation. Finner apologized in March after revealing that officers were assigning an internal code to the unsubmitted cases that cited a lack of personnel available. Whitmire also launched a review by an independent panel.

Finner said he had ordered officers to stop in November 2021 after finding out for the first time that officers had been using the code to justify dropping cases. Despite this, he said, he learned on Feb. 7 of this year that it was still being used to dismiss a significant number of adult sexual assault cases.

After several Houston TV stations reported that Finner had been included and responded to a 2018 email that referred to the suspended cases, Finner posted a statement on X saying he did not remember that email until he was shown a copy of it on Tuesday.

“I have always been truthful and have never set out to mislead anyone about anything,” Finner wrote. “Even though the phrase ‘suspended lack of personnel’ was included in the 2018 email, there was nothing that alerted me to its existence as a code or how it was applied within the department.”

The Houston Area Women’s Center, Houston’s largest non-profit supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, did not immediately return messages for comment. But in a social media post in February, it said sexual assault survivors “pay a high price” when investigations aren’t clearly resolved.

“For a survivor to find the courage to come forward and report their attack, and then to wait and watch as their case gets suspended can add immeasurable trauma. ... we are experiencing system failure in the fourth-largest city in the nation,” the post said.

Police departments around the country are facing an urgent staffing crisis as many younger officers resign and older officers retire, according to an August report by the Police Executive Research Forum. Applications to fill vacancies plummeted amid a national reckoning over how police respond to minorities.

An April 27 report by the same Washington-based think tank found more encouraging numbers.

“Small and medium agencies now have more sworn officers than they had in January 2020,” according to the forum’s report. “In large agencies, sworn staffing slightly increased during 2023, but it is still more than 5% below where it was in January 2020.”