09:30 AM

Pearland event to celebrate local Black police chiefs

Intended to be part of Black History Month celebrations, University of Houston-Clear Lake at Pearland's rescheduled Community Conversation with Local Police Chiefs will be Wednesday, May 5 at 7 p.m. after February's freeze caused power outages and other disruptions. The event will feature three Black police chiefs from the local area.

"We thought it was remarkable that there are over 700 municipal police departments in Texas, and fewer than 10% of them are led by people of color," said UH-Clear Lake Associate Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Beth Lewis. "However, in our specific geographic area, we have four Black men who are police chiefs. We'll have a panel discussion, led by UHCL Professor of Criminology Everette Penn, with Hitchcock Police Chief Wilmont Smith, Seabrook Police Chief Sean Wright, and Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale."

She said Kemah's police chief, Walter Gant, was invited but is unable to attend.

"The focus of the discussion is for these police chiefs to share their life's path to careers in law enforcement and ultimately to becoming police chiefs," Lewis said. "We want this discussion to be a celebration of their careers."

Penn agreed, saying this is a time to celebrate policing. "I use that word correctly, even though it's a turbulent time in our country right now," he said. "We must think about what brave police officers do each day, and it's good we ask questions and demand answers, but this event is to ask questions of police chiefs in a more celebratory mode. We want to highlight the accomplishments of African American police chiefs at this event."

He said that citizens who attend will find these police chiefs very interested in striving for positive interactions between police and the community.

"President Obama created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing which investigated what should be done to build better relationships between citizens and police," he said. "At the top of the list was building trust. And that is done by having forums like this for discussions to take place. The chiefs on this panel are very much in favor of that."

He added that citizens should attend the event and hear that point of view. "People shouldn't let the landscape of national policing make their focus for the lens through which they see local policing," he said. "It's easy to see national events and say policing is a problem, but police have been branded because of a few officers who have behaved out of line. It's not fair for all police officers to take on that label."

The event is free and will be held in the Health Sciences and Classroom Building room 102 at UHCL Pearland, 1200 Pearland Parkway. Register to attend in person, or view the livestream on i45now and 288now.