Confessions of a Police Ride Along with the Houston Police Department

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Ride Along with Houston Police Department

Ride Along with Officer Martinez from the Houston Police Department

Have you ever done a ride along? Would you? I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for a Houston Police Department ride along. I knew who I would be riding with – Officer Martinez, but that’s about it. Officer Martinez and I met weeks earlier when he was called to a scene in the Heights neighborhood where three men were beating up one man severely. My fiancé had made the 911 call while I intervened to stop the beating. Luckily, those men fled. Since I always had this curiosity and desire to do a police ride along, I stayed in touch with Martinez.

So, the day of the ride along arrived and a part of me was hoping that we’d be involved in some sort of high speed car chase or busting a large illegal drug operation. (My fiancé was just hoping that we’d spend the night just pulling people over for expired tags).

Over the course of seven hours, my Officer Martinez:

• Ran several license plates. The police can do this from inside their car, using a computer. So if an HPD cop is behind you at a stoplight, it’s very possible that they’re putting your license plate number through their system as you change radio stations. After the license plate number is entered, the technology will confirm things like “Valid License”, “Cancelled License”, “Sex Offender”, etc.

• Pulled over a guy who was driving around with two license plate numbers. Once was posted on the back windshield. Martinez spent an inordinate amount of time looking up records in the computer. Since the driver was cooperative, Martinez decided to give him a warning rather than give him a ticket.

• Assist two other HPD Officers who were arresting a Hispanic young male who was being charged for theft. The parents of the suspect had arrived at the scene and did not speak English. This is where Martinez’s bilingual skills came in handy and he was happy to oblige.

• Patrol and drive around several neighborhoods within his district such as Washington Heights, Heights, North Side and Garden Oaks looking for mischief and any illegal activity

So, the ride along did not end up being like the movie Training Day and I did not see any real action, but it was still interesting. Overall, it was a slow day, but still interesting even without any car chases. I think that everyone should go through a ride along program at least once in their lifetimes. It could be a ride along with your local police department, and I guarantee it will change the way you think about crime and the police.

How Gun Buyback programs affect Crime

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39 percent drop in gang crimes, 33 percent drop in shots fired calls, 241 fewer people shot.

 

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Every year in LA, the Los Angeles Police Department hosts a gun buyback program which allows residents to turn in weapons with “no questions asked”. Since inception in 2009, there has been a 39 percent drop in gang crimes and 33 percent drop in shots fired calls, translating into 241 fewer people shot in the city, according to the Mayor’s office.

So what do you get for turning in firearms?

The city of LA is offering up to $100 Ralph’s gift cards for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and up to $200 gift cards for Calif. classified assault weapons. Not bad. So far authorities have recovered 53 assault weapons, 791 handguns, 527 rifles, 302 shotguns and one anti-tank rocket launcher. Yes, one anti-tank rocket launcher..

This Gun Buyback program sounds like a no brainer to me and I profoundly recommend that it should be implemented in all cites.

Original Story “LA Gun Buyback Event Pushed Up After Conn. Tragedy” featured in LosAngeles.CBS.local.gov. on Dec. 17, 2012.

 

 

 

Mayors Challenge Top Ideas

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I’m a big fan of New York Mayor Bloomberg. Why? Because this is a man who despite being a billionaire who has the means to sail around the world in a yacht, play golf and eat caviar all day, he has chosen to take on one of the toughest jobs in the world – Mayor of the Big Apple. My Entrepreneurship Professor in undergrad, who was from NY and also a self-made millionaire, said being the Mayor of New York City was the 2nd toughest job in the world. For example, in an effort to tackle obesity, Bloomberg proposed a soda tax. Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio was actually the first politician to propose the soda tax idea to Texas legislature, but it did not pass. Not only would this tax in Texas have helped curb obesity, it could have helped raise as much as $2 billion a year or enough money to keep 20,000 Texas teachers on the payroll. But this post is not to talk about just one idea, but about the grand daddy of ideas – recognizing the value of Mayors and Cities working together and the necessity of borrowing ideas from one another.

Bloomberg has launched a competition called the Mayors Challenge which will award $9 million dollars of his own money to five cities that come up with ideas that can help solve major problems and improve city life for residents. Isn’t this awesome! First, there is the competitive aspect. Competition brings out the best in a team, or in this case, a city government. And the fact that only 5 winners will receive prize money (a lot of prize money), this will most likely ensure that cities will bring their A-game to the plate. Second, although not everyone can be a winner, the true winners are us! City residents. IF, and I do mean if, the Mayors who participate recognize the necessity of borrowing ideas from one another and foster a culture where collaboration is common.

Mayors have until July 16th to enter. All of the details can be found at MayorsChallengeBloomberg.org. If you are in City Hall and want to participate, and cannot think of ideas, here are a 7 ideas that you may benefit from:

1. Use humor and funny ads to get more people to take public transportation. The Los Angeles MTA launched humorous ads that helped woo commuters from their cars and increased citywide ridership to 29%, more than twice the national average.

2. Look at what the Orange Country Transportation Authority did to save $350,000 annually and still provide a convenient way to service customers.

3. See how city officials in Madrid made streets more safe for the blind.

4. What if you could report a broken traffic light, graffiti, or pothole by simply taking a photo with your mobile phone and sending it directly to all the city departments that are responsible and afterwards, check the progress of the issue being reported on the internet?

5. Plant global positioning systems on elementary school children in an effort to understand how their environment influences their activity levels. Research in Canada has revealed learnings that show why kids don’t use playgrounds, only walk down certain streets, and more.

6. Take a page from Dustin Haisler’s playbook. Haisler is the chief information officer of Manor Texas which is considered to be the first Web 2.0 City in America.

7. Install “Right to go Left” streets at congested intersections. Such intersection designs could save drivers time and reduce car accidents.

See the video about the Mayors Challenge below.

“Right to Go Left” Streets in Houston could reduce Traffic

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Here’s a clever intersection design simulation for the intersection at Highway 6 and Westheimer. Such a design would save drivers 46.5 seconds and reduce car accidents.

Original story “Realistic Mobility Strategies” written by Tory Gattis in Houston Strategies.

Did you know that in San Diego, for example, an expanded bus and rail transit system is planned to receive more than half of the $48.4 billion in total highway and transit spending through 2050. Yet transit would increase its share of travel to a measly 4% from its current tiny 2%, according to data in the San Diego Association of Governments regional transportation plan. This slight increase in mass transit ridership would be swamped by higher traffic volumes.

Higher population densities in the future means greater traffic congestion, because additional households in the future will continue to use their cars for most trips. In the San Diego metropolitan area, where the average one-way work trip travel time is 28 minutes, only 14% of work and higher education locations could be reached within 30 minutes by transit in 2050. But 70% or more of such locations will continue to be accessible in 30 minutes by car.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any urban area that did most of it’s growth in the post-WW2 automotive era is simply not going to be transit friendly, and that cannot be substantially changed.  Yes, you can create a few New Urbanist neighborhoods around a light rail line, but they will always be trivial in the overall context of the metro area.

That said, there’s a lot that can be done to make simple bus transit much more attractive in these urban areas (and it’s already dramatically more affordable than rail), as this Salon article “It’s time to love the bus” describes:

But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving mass transit, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on the humble city bus. The vital connective tissue of multi-modal transit systems, the bus could be an efficient — nay, elegant — solution to cities’ mobility woes if only we made it so. And yet we rarely do. Streetcars are replacing bus routes in cities across the country, and billions are thrown at light rail while the overlooked bus is left to scream “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding,” says transit consultant Jarrett Walker.
The article goes on to list a litany of potential improvements, including better bus design, BRT, sidewalk bulbing, frequency, real-time information, mobile phone alerts, better maps, better bus stops, bike racks, wi-fi, electrical outlets, and more.  Unfortunately, most transit agencies are totally focused on overpriced rail projects and ignore easy, affordable improvements to the bus system.

Who to contact to report Potholes

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Very easy to explain, let’s say you see a pothole and want to report it to the city so they can repair it.  Snap a photo of it with your smartphone, or not, and then with the press of a button, send the report that is automatically GPS tagged to give the city the exact location of the pothole.

Once submitted, people can receive updates directly over the web regarding the status of your issue. You can even play HtownBingo -  a Facebook and Twitter game that is community-building game for neighbors. After you make a report through SeeClickFix, tweet a picture of the reported issue with the tags #htownbingo. Learn about rules and prizes here.

City of Houston is planning to roll out Lagan in Fall of 2011

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The days of using 311 to report non-emergency issues may soon vanish. Technology has evolved to allow citizens to report issues via Smartphones and the web. Scheduled to roll out in the Fall of 2011, the City of Houston plans to implement Lagan – a web based customer relationship management solution designed to improve service delivery by managing interactions with residents more efficiently. To tool is expected to help:

  • Reduce cost
  • Streamline service delivery
  • Increase Government access
  • Provide a more transparent Government
  • Increase Government Accountability
Currently Houston Public Works is testing Smartphone application SeeClickFix which allows citizens to report issues such as potholes, graffiti, broken streetlights, and more via their mobile phones. I have tested the application myself and find it very useful and empowering. Read more about SeeClickFix at HtownBingo.com.

How to build a more responsive Houston local Government

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Have you experienced this before?

You see a pothole on your street that needs fixing or some abandoned houses that are marked with all kinds of graffiti and you call the city, but nothing gets resolved. You leave messages, but still the graffiti or the pothole is left unresolved. Who is accountable?

What if you could report a broken traffic light, graffiti, pothole, or even a suspected drug house by simply taking a photo with your mobile phone and sending it directly to all the city departments that are responsible including City Hall? You can geotag the problem, write a note, and upload any photos.

The police department, local utility company, sanitation department and any other relevant departments would receive the report on their dashboard computers inside their trucks or vehicles. Within hours the city gets to work fixing the problem. Moreover, what if your neighbors could see those nearby reports and raise their own voices to apply pressure and get these issues fixed?

Such engagement between residents and city government is already happening across thousands of communities including big cities like San Francisco, D.C., Dallas, and Detroit. It’s called SeeClickFix and its creating a richer civic life and making government more efficient, more transparent, and more collaborative. Check it out to express your feelings and let’s get the city of Houston to respond to situations that need attention to. Write to the city of Houston at houstontxdotgov@houstontx.gov

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