Southwestern Regional Office
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Southwestern Field Office
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Regional and Field Offices
Southwestern Region Case Highlights
In August 2019, following a community forum, city officials and the Galveston Police Department (GPD) Chief of Police in Galveston, Texas, agreed to participate in a CRS Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships (SPCP) program in the Gulf Coast city. Racial tensions increased in the Black community in Galveston after police officers, mounted on horseback, arrested a Black man and led him in handcuffs by a rope behind their horses. The public compared the officers’ actions to patrols used for catching men and women who fled slavery. Community members expressed distrust in the police department for its handling of the incident.
Galveston community leaders organized a forum to allow residents to voice concerns and ask questions of a panel consisting of political candidates and local activists. Concerns raised by the 150 participants included the need for mental health resources, police training and procedures for arresting individuals with mental illnesses, and policies for filing complaints against GPD officers. CRS shared information about CRS programs and services at the forum to help reduce tensions and address its source. After the community forum, Galveston city officials agreed to conduct the SPCP program to re-establish trust with the community and partnership with the GPD. An SPCP planning group of five community members prepared for the delivery of the program. CRS facilitated the planning meetings and trained session facilitators.
In November 2019, CRS facilitated the SPCP program for approximately 100 participants, including representatives from the a local university, a local school district, NAACP, and a Hispanic American national civil rights organization. Other participants included GPD officers; youth leaders; clergy; business owners; Black, Latino, and white community members; and residents from the east, midtown, and west end neighborhoods in Galveston. The participants worked in facilitated small groups to identify the strengths of the community and areas of concern. As a full group, the participants prioritized law enforcement’s and the community groups’ primary concerns, including negative perceptions of each other, a lack of police training, and mental health, and identified potential solutions to these issues.
During the program, program participants selected representatives from each small group to serve on a council to implement some of the identified solutions.
In January 2020, CRS facilitated the first SPCP council meeting, including Galveston city officials, the police chief, and the newly elected 2-member council. CRS drafted the rules of engagement to guide the SPCP council’s work, which the police chief approved and the council adopted. The council now operates independently, and CRS is available to support the council as needed.
CRS facilitated a series of two community dialogues in October 2019 and February 2020, respectively, to help strengthen police-community relations in Houston, Texas. Representatives from the local law enforcement requested CRS services to address Black and Latino community members’ concerns and quell increasing racial tensions stemming from a January 2019 incident in southeast Houston that left five officers injured and the two suspects shot and killed. When officers served a search warrant, the suspects allegedly opened fire as the officers breached the front door of the residence. The incident led to concerns and fears among Black and Latino community leaders and residents in southeast Houston over perceived police excessive use of force and gun violence in the city.
In August 2019, by invitation of city officials and law enforcement leaders, CRS met with Houston city officials, local law enforcement leaders, the Greater Houston League of United Latin American Citizens Council, the Houston Branch of the NAACP, and a local advocacy organization to identify potential CRS services and resources to improve police-community relations. During the meeting, the parties requested that CRS facilitate a community dialogue to address community concerns. They formed a group comprised of law enforcement leaders, diverse community leaders, religious leaders, and advocates to plan the event.
Approximately 40 Houston community leaders participated in the October facilitated dialogue, including city officials, law enforcement, educators, civic leaders, advocates, service providers, students, and faith leaders. In five small groups, the participants addressed guiding questions posed by the trained facilitators to identify problems or barriers impacting law enforcement-community partnerships between the local law enforcement and the Houston community. Primary concerns raised in the small group discussions included fear and mistrust of law enforcement, a lack of law enforcement accountability to resolve issues and recognize pain points within the community, and a need for community education related to police laws and procedures and to increase cultural awareness.
In February 2020, CRS facilitated a second dialogue session where participants developed solutions to address the concerns raised in October. Proposed solutions included decreasing fear through improved interactions with law enforcement in communities and educating the Houston community on police officers’ roles and responsibilities. Before concluding this dialogue, community leaders introduced a newly created 10-member council, whose members committed to participate in follow-up meetings to implement the identified solutions during the dialogue sessions.
In early FY 2020, a group of law enforcement leaders requested that CRS conduct the Engaging and Building Partnerships with Muslim Americans training program during a session at an annual conference for campus law enforcement officials. Law enforcement officials felt their state and local officers would benefit from the CRS training due, in part, to the local Muslim population’s growth, recent cases of mistaken identity, and misunderstandings about Muslim religious beliefs.
In December 2019, CRS and a subject matter expert delivered the training at the conference in The Woodlands, Texas, for approximately 50 police chiefs and assistant police chiefs from colleges and universities across Texas.
The training provided the police officers with a better understanding of Muslim religious beliefs and culture, increased awareness of civil rights related issues that impact Muslim Americans, and tools and best practices for engaging with the community. At the conclusion of the training, officers developed plans to conduct outreach to Muslim communities in their jurisdictions to improve interactions, build partnerships, and increase public trust.
In August 2020, CRS conducted its first two virtual Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forums for a national audience. Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, American Jewish Committee (AJC), and an interfaith coalition requested CRS services in response to concerns from faith communities regarding a rise in hate incidents and cases of vandalism directed at places of worship.
During the summer of 2020, media reports highlighted vandalism cases targeting mosques, synagogues, and churches throughout the nation, including in Florida, New York, Michigan, and Texas. The vandalism involved smashing windows, spray-painting hate speech and swastikas, and damaging religious statues. Earlier in the year, CRS had formed a working group with the Boniuk Institute, AJC, and two other faith-based organizations to address communities’ concerns over anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Catholicism. CRS provided the community leaders with best practices and information on preventing and responding to hate crimes directed at places of worship, including a description of the PPOW forum. Participants received information on government resources, programs, and tools to secure places of worship.
More than 240 individuals attended the two forums, which were open to all faith communities nationwide. Forum panelists included representatives from CRS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. The panelists shared information on preventing and responding to bias incidents and hate crimes directed toward places of worship and best practices for collaboration among government, law enforcement, and faith communities. The panelists also discussed hate crime laws, statistics, and case studies. The FEMA representative provided details on grant opportunities for places of worship seeking to bolster security. Following the presentations, CRS facilitated a question-and-answer session where audience members asked about hate crimes reporting procedures, best practices for prevention, and tips for working together with interfaith and law enforcement agencies.
In November 2018, the Deputy Police Chief of the Lone Star College Police Department requested that CRS train campus police officers as part of the department’s efforts to maintain positive law enforcement-community relations.
Lone Star College is a public community college system with nearly 100,000 students in the Houston area, with growing Muslim and Sikh student populations across the college’s campuses. Law enforcement leaders requested that CRS conduct its Engaging and Building Partnerships with Muslim and Sikh Americans training programs for campus police officers as a proactive measure to prevent and respond to hate crimes or bias incidents across the college’s campuses and because they wanted to increase their cultural education of the communities due to the changing demographics.
Throughout late 2018 and early 2019, CRS facilitated regular sessions with a planning group comprised of campus police officers and college officials. In April 2019, CRS conducted the training at the college’s LSC-University Park campus for approximately 70 Lone Star College Police Department officers and other campus law enforcement officers in the greater Houston area. The training increased officers’ awareness and understanding of customs and cultural aspects of the Muslim and Sikh American communities, enabling them to strengthen their relationships with these communities by learning about cultural sensitivities, best practices on how to engage, and better methods of communications.
Following the February 1, 2019 vandalism of a Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky, Hindus of Greater Houston leaders requested a public Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum. Members of the group had participated in a March 15, 2018 interfaith PPOW forum at Rice University in Houston and believed that holding another forum would help address community concerns about escalation and the possibility of violence in Houston.
CRS provided consultation services to assist Hindus of Greater Houston in planning the PPOW forum, including convening an interfaith working group to help with preparation. The working group was comprised of representatives from, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, a local university, and a local synagogue. In April 2019, CRS facilitated the forum at a local temple for approximately 65 participants representing 40 faith-based organizations. Presenters included the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Infrastructure Protection; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas (USAO-SDTX); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – Houston Field Office; Harris County District Attorney’s Office; and Houston Police Department. Speakers shared information about best practices relating to hate crimes prosecutions, hate crimes statistics and symbols of hate, and preventing and responding to active shooter situations. In addition, interfaith leaders led a panel discussion on protecting places of worship.
Forum participants created an interfaith working group that meets quarterly. The group continues to plan interfaith programming on preventing and responding to hate crimes for the community in the Greater Houston area.
Witnesses at an October 2017 high school football game in Dallas, Texas, alleged that cheerleaders from the rival school exchanged racially insensitive comments, which later appeared on social media. As a result of the incident, racial tension between the two schools became extremely high, and school leaders became concerned about public safety.
Fearing rapid escalation, school district officials placed an urgent call to CRS to help facilitate a dialogue between the two schools. That same day, CRS held an emergency dialogue with the principals, coaches, district personnel, and counselors to discuss the incident and how to address the conflict. The group decided to have CRS facilitate its School-SPIRIT program with the two schools, and CRS immediately began training district staff to serve as program facilitators.
Less than 48 hours after the initial call, CRS assisted district staff in facilitating the School-SPIRIT program. The program allowed students to discuss the racial tension between the schools and empowered them to identify solutions. At the program’s conclusion, CRS met with the principals of both schools to discuss the students’ recommendations on how to address the inter-school conflicts.
The School-SPIRIT program resulted in a written action plan with concrete steps for both schools to improve relations between the student bodies.
Less than 30 days after the School-SPIRIT program, the Easthampton SPIRIT Council met to begin implementing solutions to address issues identified as priorities during the program.
The sheriff of Cleveland County, Oklahoma, requested CRS assistance to develop a Community Advisory Board to address the community’s concerns about perceived disparate treatment of inmates, based on race, at the Cleveland County Detention Center.
In April 2018, CRS facilitated a dialogue with county officials and the sheriff to outline the mission, goals, application process, and structure of the board. From April to May 2018, the county accepted applications to join the board, and a panel of community leaders reviewed the applications.
In June 2018, CRS and the sheriff’s department met with an existing group, the Oklahoma Police and Community Trust, which included community advocates and members of civil rights groups, to discuss implementing the board. At the meeting, discussion topics included violence, mental health, racial bias, and other issues impacting inmates of the detention center. The meeting helped to build trust between the county and the community, create transparency on how the board was established, and provide a voice to the community on how detention center inmates were treated.
The Cleveland County Community Advisory Board held its first meeting in September 2018 and is the only group of its kind in the state. The board’s members include representatives from a diverse cross section of communities from Oklahoma City to Lexington, as well as unincorporated areas of the county.
In 2016, a media report alleged that a local police department mocked a transgender man and failed to arrest his attacker. LGBTQ community leaders reported increased community concerns related to disparate treatment following the incident. CRS organized and led a facilitated dialogue between LGBTQ community leaders and the local police chief. As a direct result of CRS’ work, the chief agreed to meet with LGBTQ community leaders on a quarterly basis to address issues and concerns that directly affect interactions between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement. Additionally, CRS organized and led facilitated dialogues between LGBTQ community leaders, city officials, and other stakeholders. A direct outcome of CRS’ work was the creation of the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Board.
In a case of national significance beginning in 2016 and continuing into 2017, CRS addressed racial tension in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after the July 2016 police shooting death of an African American man, Alton Sterling. This incident was followed by the shooting death of five police officers by a lone gunman. The events triggered widespread civil unrest resulting in threats to public safety and law enforcement. CRS’s services were requested by the Deputy Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI to respond to the critical high-tension events. Later, city officials sought additional CRS services in response to longstanding tensions and mistrust between the local community and law enforcement.
In November 2016, CRS facilitated community dialogues between community leaders, government officials, and law enforcement representatives. The conversations addressed issues surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and the African American community, including youth, with the goal of developing a mutual understanding of the underlying issues and causes of the tensions. CRS also worked with the participating stakeholders to develop viable and self-sustaining measures to increase mutual trust and respect between the police and the community.
In April 2017, CRS met with the new Mayor-President and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana to discuss the action items identified during the community conversations. To help facilitate concrete next steps, CRS provided recommendations for creating community partnerships to allow law enforcement, government, and community leaders to work collaboratively to improve community-police relations and public safety.