HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF HAROLD HURTT AMONG SAN FRANCISCO CONTENDERS

<em>Harold Hurtt</em>

Harold Hurtt

BY CAROLYN FEIBEL

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Saturday that he is considering job options with other police agencies but has made no decision about his future yet.

“I’ve told the mayor I’d stay until the end of his administration,” said Hurtt, 62. “However, I still have to look out for what’s best for myself and my family. I would love to stay in Houston, but I think it’s inappropriate to raise any assumptions or raise any issues with any potential candidate for mayor at this time.”

Mayor Bill White steps down at the end of this year after serving the maximum of three two-year terms, which is expected to trigger the departure of several senior staff members.

Hurtt confirmed that he’s been contacted by “several different entities” but declined to name which ones. The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, reported that Hurtt is the only black candidate on a list of a dozen or so semifinalists for that city’s top police post.

San Francisco’s chief, Heather Fong, is resigning after five years. She was the first woman in the job.

White appointed Hurtt in February 2004, recruiting him from the top post in Phoenix. White’s decision to bring in an outsider came after a string of embarrassments for the Houston department, including police shootings of unarmed teenagers, the closure of its crime lab amid charges of incompetence, and a botched mass arrest in a Kmart parking lot that resulted in lawsuits against the city.

During Hurtt’s tenure, the police ranks have grown to about 5,200 officers. Hurtt focused on recruitment after a wave of retirements in 2004 reduced the ranks to less than 4,800.

Success and regret

The overall crime rate has dropped to its lowest level since 1980, even taking into account the city’s population growth.

“That’s what I was here to do, help lower the crime,” Hurtt said. “We’ve made great strides in that.”

But the department has also been criticized for its handling of mentally ill suspects, officers’ use of Tasers, and unresolved issues with its handling of evidence.

“The only regret I have is we haven’t gone further with the DNA crime lab, either internally or combining with the county or other partners,” said Hurtt. “Or the fact that no one has created an independent DNA crime lab.”

“We’re still trying to move forward and get the funding,” he added.

“I enjoy what I do and working in Houston,” Hurtt said. He said he’d like to retire in Houston, if possible.

White could not be reached for comment but his spokesman, Frank Michel, said turnover is expected in the mayor’s last year.

“The mayor said at the end of an administration, you expect to lose good people,” Michel said.

The director of the Houston Airport System, Richard Vacar, resigned abruptly Friday after serving in that position for 11 years. Terence Fontaine, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, left in December to work for CenterPoint Energy.

See Related: CRIME

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