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Broad Societal Issues Cloud Police, Community Relations in Texas City

Tension between police and residents has led to unrest in some U.S. cities, mostly recently in Baltimore, Maryland. But in the diverse city of Houston, calm has prevailed. Police in some parts of the major Texas city have worked to build trust with residents. However, the social conditions that can lead to unrest are still present.

This community gathering at a Houston police station takes place every month under the so-called Positive Interaction Program.

"We hold our men and women in this uniform accountable. I want to tell you that right now," said Captain Gregory Fremin who commands the Houston Police Department’s Northeast Division, which has the task of protecting a largely black community.

“We can’t do this by ourselves. I need the public’s help on this, and, really, the only way I can do that, especially in a minority community, is to gain their trust,” he said.

Fremin said outreach to community and religious leaders has helped him build that trust.

“They don’t say things that hurt me. They say things that help me. I think that has helped us collectively as a city in light of what we have been seeing around the United States with a lot of the unrest,” he said.

Most here want more police in their neighborhood.

Longtime resident Marlin Phillips said officers here listened and responded promptly.

“I give the officers in this northeast command station an A-plus, from the supervisor all the way down,” he said.

But Phillips said he has encountered a different attitude from police in other parts of Houston.

Bishop James Dixon said that some police officers still interacted with minorities in a hostile way.

“When law enforcement comes into a community and already has the perception that everyone here is a criminal, everyone here is dangerous, they are responding to it as if they are on enemy territory,” he said.

Dixon said relations between the community and police have improved in Houston, but the underlying causes of unrest still existed.

“By now, America and cities in America like Houston should be beyond blatant racial inequality, and that is what the hopelessness and unrest is stemming from,” he said.

He said, even in a city as diverse as Houston, the poorest neighborhoods were still made up mostly of minorities.

Houston Chief of Police Charles McClelland said social conditions helped fuel crime.

“It is also about incarceration rates, economics, joblessness, all of those things that disproportionately affect young minority men or men of color,” he said.

He said police deal with the consequences of social problems that should be addressed by families, communities, lawmakers and government leaders.

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