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.


“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.

Houstonians – get rid of your prescription drugs lying around

Where and when in Houston can you drop off a full bag of prescription bottles without questions asked? Instead of tossing them in the trash or down the toilet, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has started a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Campaign. There are 3,400 locations nationwide where people can drop off their drugs which will then be incinerated.

Why is this important?

This effort protects children who find substances lying around at home. The medicine cabinet has become ‘a new drug dealer’ says Ray Andrews, director of Houston Crackdown, the anti-drug division of the mayor’s office for public safety and homeland security.

So go ahead Houston, get rid of those drugs you don’t use or need. They’re not going to peel off a label and look for your name or ask any questions.

Original story by Cindy George, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 26, 2010


Less Waiting Time at the Houston DPS

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Department of Public Safety offices are looking to speed up the time it takes to get your driver’s license in Houston! New initiatives are to eliminate the first-come, first served process and to implement an express lane for customers with shorter transactions such as license renewals.

For people who need more time, they can make an appointment! Yes, actually make an appointment at the DPS. Moreover, people can check on-line to see wait times at DPS offices before heading to one.

Rebecca Davio, assistant DPS director, is looking forward to see how these changes will impact wait time and customer satisfaction. One suggestion, why not have DPS offices opened on Saturday for all of us who work Monday thru Friday?


Original story by Peggy Fikac, Austin Bureau

Manor, Texas is the first Web 2.0 City in America

Initially known for its chief tourist attraction – the water tower featured in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Manor is now on its way to becoming ground zero for Gov 2.0. No city quite like Manor has embraced Gov 2.0 with quite the fervor of Manor.

Dustin Haisler, chief information officer of Manor Texas, is bringing the best of the internet to the citizens of Manor. The city is a now a hub for just about every civic application out there. Companies like CiviGuard that sells a high-tech version of the old emergency broadcast system, are testing their apps and services there. CiviGuard sends alerts that are distributed through smartphone apps and text messages.

Spigit is another company that provides an online suggestion box. Manorites suggested ideas to win prizes. Thanks to the winner, residents can set up automatic utility-bill payments.

SeeClickFix is also testing their product in Manor. It offers a website an 800 number and an iPhone app that let Manorites report potholes, broken streetlights, and other problems to the Department of Public Works. Houston we need this!

Want more? DotGov is developing an app called CityLife that provides information on local government services. The app has not yet been released, but Manor has been helping to test it out.

Thanks to Haisler, Manor has agreements with more than a dozen other small companies for various high-tech services, many of which, as a pilot customer, it receives for free. Come to Houston Haisler!

Way to go Manor, Texas!

Follow Eric on Twitter at: @HoustonGreat