Houston, TX – The Houston police chief said he almost yanked the police union president off the podium at a press conference on Monday night when he blamed the shootings of four officers on “dirtbags” who want to kill cops.
“It was over the top,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. “In one sense, I get it. But that was not the place. This was not the incident. This had nothing to do with any of the stuff he was talking about.”
Four Houston police officers were shot, and another seriously injured his knee, during a narcotics warrant service on Jan. 28.
The suspects, 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle and his wife, 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas, were killed during a gun battle with police after they made entrance to the house.
At a press conference in front of Memorial Hermann Hospital after the shootings, the police chief invited Officer Joe Gamaldi, the police union president, to take the microphone with an introduction that implied Officer Gamaldi would be saying what he could not.
“In times like this, sometimes what we can’t do, the Houston police officers union do a phenomenal job of being partners with us, and I’d like to have him say a few comments on behalf of the police officers union,” Chief Acevedo said.
The union president began by thanking the community for its support, and recognizing the Houston Fire Department and the hospital personnel for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of the wounded police officers.
But then Officer Gamaldi’s tone turned angry as he continued his remarks.
“But now I want to speak on behalf of the 5,200 brave men and women in the Houston Police Department, and the other 800,000 police officers that are working these streets every single day, putting their lives on the line,” he began.
“We are sick and tired of having targets on our back. We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and protect our families,” Officer Gamaldi continued. “Enough is enough!”
“And if you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, well just know, we’ve all got your number now,” the union president warned. “We’re going to be keeping track of all y’all. And we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time that you stir the pot on our police officers.”
“We’ve had enough, folks. We’re out there doing jobs every day, putting our lives on the line for our families. Enough is enough!” Officer Gamaldi reiterated.
But on Thursday, after complaints from Black Lives Matter activists that the union president’s remarks could widen the divide between police and the community, Chief Acevedo changed his tune and publicly criticized Officer Gamaldi’s message.
The chief told reporters that Houston used to average about 45 officer shootings per year and that number has been reduced to about 15, a sign that the department is doing well in “relational policing.”
He talked about the positive relationship the police department has with the activist community.
“This is the first time we’ve had this brouhaha – and quite frankly I think a big part of it is because Joe Gamaldi’s emotions got the best of him, and [he] started, just went off a little over the top – a lot over the top if you ask me,” Chief Acevedo said.
“Which brings me to this. Joe Gamaldi doesn’t run the Houston Police Department – I do. I’m the police chief and I’m responsible for everything that goes on in the department,” the chief said.
He went on to explain the difference between the police department and the Houston Police Officers Union, calling the union “labor” and reminding the community that he was the boss, not Gamaldi.
“I would urge people to do two things. Number one, we should not paint activists with broad brushes, and our department should not be painted with a broad brush because of one guy’s comments or whatever comments he’s made since. Because ultimately, that’s one person, one opinion,” Chief Acevedo told reporters.
He said he would be meeting with the activist community to further discuss the issue.
“There’s a difference between being an activist and being an anarchist… anarchists are those that would say ‘all cops need to die.’ Do you understand the difference?” the chief asked the assembled reporters.
The chief went on to say that Houston doesn’t have problems with their activist community like other cities do, even when there was an officer-involved shooting.
Chief Acevedo said he thought Officer Gamaldi would say things differently if he had it to do over again.
However, when asked by KTRK, Gamaldi didn't back down.
"I don't see how my comments could impact relationships with anyone because we are talking advocating for our death, using anti-police rhetoric," he told the station.
"I've certainly heard what the chief had to say, and he's certainly right. He is the chief of the Houston Police Department just like I'm the President of HPOU. There's nothing over the top about vocalizing what every single cop at the hospital was feeling, what every single officer in the department and country was feeling in that moment," he said.