The Houston Police Department, the nation’s largest that allows off-duty officers to work in bars, is reviewing that policy, the Houston Chronicle says. HPD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department began investigations of possible violations of policy by moonlighting officers videotaped in bars by an undercover-news team.
In a report aired last night on KTRK-Channel 13, officers can be seen letting people in the back door of an apparently overcrowded club and hiding during a raid by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The TV report echoed a September story by the Chronicle that reported the Houston Police Department allows officers to work in bars that have have had dozens of liquor-rule violations. Department rules say officers should not work in places “found to be consistently or frequently in violation of state or federal law or city ordinances.”
The Chronicle’s investigation showed that the department does not investigate the legal and other background of bars and other prospective outside employers. Three of the bars featured in the video all have had more than a dozen violations in the last three years.
Houston’s policy is unusual for a department of its size. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have banned the practice for decades in a bid to fight corruption. In Texas, San Antonio and Dallas also forbid bar work. Other departments, including Austin and Washington D.C., banned the practice more recently.
Also in Houston, the previously reported shutdown at the police department’s crime lab could have an impact far beyond the division involved, a prosecutor told the Chronicle. She voiced fears that the latest crisis will make the lab’s problems with DNA testing “look like a cakewalk.”
Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier said her office is bracing for the possibility that the lab’s newest problems could affect thousands of cases. Prosecutors will review of Pauline Louie’s work as supervisor and lone analyst of the toxicology division. Munier noted that Louie also supervised the enormous narcotics division. “This is like a nightmare,” Munier said. “If this leads to questions about drug testing, the numbers are going to be astronomical. But if there is the possibility that messed-up lab work put someone in prison, we have to fix it.”
The toxicology division, which tests blood and urine for drugs and alcohol, was closed and Louie was suspended after she failed a competency test administered as part of the process to earn national accreditation for the lab.