HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Concern continues to grow over the panel tasked with investigating the Houston Police Department’s decision not to investigate more than a quarter of a million cases.

The independence of the committee is being questioned

Last month, HPD Chief Troy Finner announced the creation of the agency in a stunning announcement didn’t investigate more than 260,000 for almost a decade due to staff shortages. After learning about it, Mayor John Whitmire, who took office less than two months before the chief’s announcement, called for one independent review.

Last week, Whitmire announced the names of the panel’s members. On Tuesday, attorney Randall Kallinen and other community activists raised concerns about the group.

“The fox guards the chicken coop,” said Kallinen. “We need an actual independent investigation.”

Kallinen also worried that the group was not representative of the community.

“No one from (the League of United Latin American Citizens),” Kallinen explained. “No one from the NAACP. No one from any civil rights organization or any member of the public. It’s basically just people the mayor knows or controls through their salaries.”

Mayor leaves meeting before concerns are raised

Five people were appointed to the mayor’s panel to investigate HPD. The chair is Ellen Cohen, a former state representative and city council member.

Jeff Owles is a Texas Ranger. Rev. Leon Preston is a pastor and social justice advocate. Christina Nowak is the City of Houston’s Deputy Inspector General in the Office of Inspector General. The last member is the city attorney Arturo Michel.

Kallinen said members were too closely aligned with HPD and feared they might be biased.

“Maybe there are people who are actually somehow involved, and they are the ones who are investigating themselves,” Kallinen said.

Kallinen and four others brought these concerns to Whitmire council on Tuesday. However, the mayor dropped out shortly before their conversation.

Whitmire’s spokesman said he had to attend a meeting. Last week, a Professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake expressed similar concerns to the panel.

Professor Kimberly Dodson has served on similar boards outside of Texas. She said the mayor’s group is too small, too connected and doesn’t have enough power to be effective.

“Being able to subpoena individuals is critically important,” Dodson said. “Being able to find out the names of the potential victims and also interview those people.”

Whitmire sent ABC13 a statement to the panel last week:

It is important to note that, as the mayor said, this is not a criminal investigation. The panel consists of credible and respected individuals with extensive experience and diverse backgrounds. They review HPD’s work and results and are accountable to the Mayor and the public for providing responses and accountability.

Kallinen doesn’t like the group Whitmire put together, but he’s happy with how vocal he’s been.

“I give him a high score as far as the confessions he made because he came out and said some things that were good confessions and so on,” Kallinen said. “Now that the investigation has begun, he must maintain that transparency.”

Activities for crime victims: Get in touch

HPD said it has not tracked more than 261,000 cases. The independent panel plans to meet with some of the victims.

The group that spoke to the council on Tuesday also wants to meet with them. They created one portal where people can get in touch.

Some victims have already come forward.

“They are just so traumatized,” said Hai Bui, founder of We the People Organize. “I spent half an hour listening to (a victim) go on and on and on.”

For some community activists, just talking to victims isn’t enough. They also want to know what happens to the cases that are not pursued.

“How are they supposed to address all these people whose statute of limitations has expired,” Kallinen asked.

To get answers, Kallinen said a person needs to be removed: Chief Troy Finner.

“I believe the police chief should at least resign from this investigation,” Kallinen said.

He wasn’t the only one making that call. The police union also sent a letter to HPD on Tuesday asking Finner to step away during the investigation. HPD had no comment.

The first meeting of the committee is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

For updates on this story, follow Nick Natario on Facebook, X And Instagram.

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