Houston Police Chief and La Verne alumnus Art Acevedo has been working around the clock to coordinate efforts for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Born in Cuba, he and his family moved to El Monte, just west of La Verne, in December 1960.
Acevedo studied communications at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, and also attended Western State University College of Law before he decided he wanted to be a police officer. He was hired by the California Highway Patrol in 1986, then came to ULV to study Public Administration from 2004 to 2005.
Before becoming police chief in Houston, he was the first Hispanic police chief to serve in Austin, Texas.
In both cities, he improved community relations.
Now, in the wake of disaster, he has helped save countless lives.
What made you want to become a police officer?
As a Cuban refugee and an immigrant, my dad raised us to believe in this country.
He gave us the greatest gift of all, which is freedom. So, I really had a deep desire to actually give back.
I really had a deep desire to enter the public service.
What sort of changes have you made in the Houston Police Department?
We have changed everything: our working hours, our detectives, the way that we investigate crime.
We have created different processes in terms of how we do things as a result of being a more data-driven organization.
We’ve seen a 23 percent drop in homicides this year and murders here in Houston. That’s something that we’re very proud of.
We’ve changed the way we investigate officer involved shootings. I’ve changed the way that we investigate internal affairs and complaints, and I’ve actually worked diligently to improve our transparency as an organization.
As a result, I think that public trust is up here in the city of Houston.
How did your department prepare for Hurricane Harvey?
We actually came together as a police department and we put our employees on notice, our police officers, they should be prepared to actually bring extra clothes to work and be prepared to stay at work before the storm hits, and it was supposed to hit on Saturday or Sunday. Before it hit, we actually put everyone on practical alert where they work 12 hours on and 12 hours off, and then once the storm starts hitting, which looked like it was going to be really, really soon.
It was so significant with the most rain that had ever been in recorded history falling in the region.
We actually made everybody stay at work for six full days without going home.
How did the Houston Police Department coordinate efforts with other organizations?
It was all hands on deck.
Our community came together, our agencies came together, it was really an effort that included everyone, including the fellowship of the La Verne Campus, because they had a bunch of donations sent here.
How did you guys maintain safety throughout the hurricane?
Well, I’ll tell you, a lot of them put their lives at risk for rescues. We probably rescued about 6,000 people during the storm, and a lot of them, the missions were risky because people weren’t really trained for that. But when citizens’ lives are at risk, we put ourselves at risk because that’s what we signed up to do, and we’re very proud of that. There were a lot of volunteers, and a lot of people would not have been alive had it not been for us.
Sgt. Steve Perez drowned while trapped in his car under an underpass during the flood when he was trying to drive to work. How close were you with him?
That really broke all of our hearts. We just buried him Wednesday. I’ve known him for nine months and he was a really quite a sweet man, and it just broke my heart when I found out that he was missing, because he was really a good man. You think about the fact that he’s stranded two and a half hours trying to get to work shows a lot about his commitment.
Aryn Plax can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.