Hurtt, Harold 1947(?)–
Harold Hurtt 1947(?)–
Law enforcement executive
Harold Hurtt became the chief of police in 2004 of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the United States. He brought to the job an impressive record of success in the Phoenix, Arizona, police department, where he had spent much of his professional life. “Perhaps Hurtt’s best recommendation is the desire of Phoenix’s citizenry and police force for him to stay,” noted the Houston Chronicle after the announcement of Hurtt’s new appointment. While other big-city police departments struggled with conflicts between citizens and police, and between police leadership and officers’ unions, Hurtt had engendered goodwill in both areas. He seemed well prepared to take on a daunting set of challenges in Houston.
Many of Hurtt’s accomplishments could be grouped under the heading of community policing; as chief he met frequently with community organizations, and he opened new offices in neighborhoods where the police had long been seen as outsiders. But for Hurtt, community policing was more than a textbook idea; in his early days on the force it had been a method of survival on the streets where he began his career. Born around 1947, Hurtt joined the Phoenix police as a patrol officer in 1968 after military service at Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base.
“I worked a walking beat in a housing project,” Hurtt told the Chronicle. “For eight hours you lived there. You went to family fights, you went to the child abuses, and the homicides. You had to sell yourself every day, and when you made a promise, you had to carry it through. You had to make sure you treated people fairly, and that still stands today. Nothing has changed.” Coping successfully with the pressures of working in a predominantly black housing project during the unrest of the 1960s, Hurtt rose through the ranks in Phoenix. Along the way he furthered his education, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Arizona State University in 1977 and later a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.
Hurtt left Phoenix for the first time in his professional life in 1991, when he was named police chief in Oxnard, California. There he encountered an issue that
At a Glance…
Born in 1947(?); married; children: three. Education: Arizona State University, BS, sociology, 1977; University of Phoenix, MA, organizational management, 1991; Valley Leadership Program, graduate; University of California at Los Angeles, School of Public Policy and Social Research, senior fellow. Military service: U.S. Air Force.
Career: Police department, Phoenix, AZ, officer, 1968-91; Oxnard, CA, chief of police, 1991-98; Phoenix, chief of police, 1998-2004; Houston, TX, chief of police, 2004-.
Selected memberships: Major Cities Chiefs of Police, past president; International Association of Chiefs of Police, member; National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, member; Police Executive Research Forum, member.
Addresses: Office —Houston Police Department, 1200 Travis, Houston, TX 77002.
would equip him well for his later posts in Phoenix and Houston, both cities with large Latin American populations. “When I went to Oxnard, that was a city that was 67 percent Hispanic. Service levels, equity of service was always an issue,” he told the Houston Chronicle. Hurtt managed the challenges in Oxnard well. Over the course of his seven-year tenure, crime rates in Oxnard dropped by 30 percent. When the post of police chief in Phoenix became available in 1998, Hurtt jumped at the chance to return. He even turned down a finalist slot in the competition to become police chief in San Jose, California, to live in Phoenix.
In Phoenix, Hurtt worked closely with the community. He served on the boards of directors of the Phoenix Boys choir and the Valley of the Sun YMCA among other organizations, and he was elected president of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police. Although generally a delegator in his management style, Hurtt often visited meetings of neighborhood organizations. He succeeded in reversing a homicide spike in 2003 after consulting with residents in the hardest-hit neighborhoods and determining the causes for the rash of murders—an increase in drug trafficking and in the victimization of illegal aliens. Overall, Phoenix’s violent crime rate fell by more than 9 percent from 1998 to 2002, and property crime also fell.
The biggest challenge Hurtt faced in Phoenix involved police use of force: Phoenix’s rate of police shootings eclipsed that of the controversial Los Angeles police department in the early 2000s. Hurtt responded with a series of measures that included video simulation training. His most significant innovation was to issue Taser electronic stun guns to all city patrol officers. The Tasers enabled officers to subdue violent arrestees without resorting to lethal force. When Phoenix became the first major police department in the country to equip all its street officers with stun guns in March of 2003, the city’s police shootings for the year dropped to their lowest level since 1990.
Successes like these got the attention of Houston’s hard-charging, millionaire mayor Bill White, whose police department was faced with a host of problems, including allegations of police misconduct in the shootings of two unarmed Hispanic teenagers and questions about the competence of the department’s DNA testing lab. Passing over several internal candidates and deflecting pressure to name a Hispanic chief, White named Hurtt Houston’s new chief of police in February of 2004. “Harold Hurtt is a police officer’s police offer….,” White told the Houston Chronicle. “He’s recognized in this nation by his peers as being a leader in policing in the United States.”
In his first weeks on the job in Houston, Hurtt announced a commitment to replicate his Taser initiative in Houston. He also hoped to set in motion another program that had proven successful in both Oxnard and Phoenix—the installation of intersection cameras that could detect the license numbers of cars that ran red lights. What got the most attention was Hurtt’s reshuffling of the department’s top-rank command staff, which resulted in the departure of several longtime assistant chiefs but put in place a diverse young staff that gained praise from Houston journalists. New assistant chiefs included Dorothy Edwards, the department’s first African-American woman to serve in that capacity. Hurtt built strong bridges to the police rank and file by meeting with all 5,400 officers and opening up lines of communication with the department’s police union.
Despite his strong record, Hurtt remained an elusive figure in some ways. Described as very private, he often declined interviews and preferred to be represented in public by members of his staff. Journalists and staffers noted his frequently mangled syntax when he was speaking, referring sarcastically to his use of language as the King’s English. Yet even those same individuals praised Hurtt for his overall effectiveness. Hurtt did make known that he was married, with three children and seven grandchildren. He was an enthusiastic golfer and often lamented that his professional responsibilities left him little time to pursue the sport.
Even in the face of an unexpected budget shortfall of $20 million to $30 million that confronted him during his first months on the job, Hurtt seemed well-prepared for the challenges of running Houston’s enormous department and administering its budget of over $400 million annually. He continued his practice of meeting with neighborhood groups, and he started out with the respect of various constituencies in a troubled situation. Though not a headline-grabber, Harold Hurtt had become one of the most respected law enforcement leaders in the United States.
Associated Press, February 26, 2004; February 27, 2004.
Houston Chronicle, February 28, 2004, p. Al; February 29, 2004, Outlook sec., p. 2; March 3, 2004, p. 3; March 5, 2004, p. 25; March 18, 2004, p. 26; March 25, 2004, p. 24; March 30, 2004, p. 11; April 15, 2004, p. 5; April 28, 2004, p. 17; April 30, 2004, p. 25, May 27, 2004, p. 26.
Houston Press, March 11, 2004; May 6, 2004.
Jet, March 15, 2004, p. 18.
—James M. Manheim
"Hurtt, Harold 1947(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hurtt-harold-1947
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