Since 2016, the Houston Police Department (HPD) has received 2.8 million crime reports. During part of those eight years, HPD used a code called “Suspended – Lack of Personnel” to “suspend” investigations into as many as 264,000 crime reports. 


While 100,000 of those reports involved property crimes, more than 4,000 involved alleged sexual assaults—a serious violent felony. 


HPD Chief Troy Finner recently told local media outlets that he became aware of the practice in 2021 and ordered it stopped. 


Houston Mayor John Whitmire issued a public statement saying: “I am very concerned. It is unacceptable, and I have instructed Chief Finner to be transparent and to continue his review as a top priority. Public safety continues to be my highest priority.”


While Finner stated that he was unaware of any sex crimes against children being in the suspended sexual assault investigations, local television station KPRC 2 Investigates has learned, through law enforcement sources, that HPD did suspend some sexual assault investigations involving children between 2016 and 2018 but discontinued the practice in 2018.


That year, a special unit, the Crimes Against Children Unit (CACU), was established through a merger of two other HPD units dealing with crimes against children: the Consolidated Child Physical Abuse Unit and the Child Sexual Abuse Unit. KPRC 2 Investigates cites a 2019 three-page internal report prepared at the time by HPD Commander David Angelo to the Department’s Command Staff, which states:


“One of the main reasons this was done [the merger of the units) was to address the growing backlog of suspended child sexual abuse cases due to a lack of manpower in the unit.”


In the wake of the exposure of this scandal, the HPD has vowed never again to use the “Suspended – Lack of Personnel” code after it had reviewed at least 700 of the 4,000 suspended sexual assault investigations. While HPD has apologized for the code having ever been implemented for these cases in the first place, advocates who deal with sexual assault victims have nonetheless expressed shock and dismay that anything like this could have ever happened.


The problem with scandals, especially those involving law enforcement, is that they trigger over-reactions. 


We feel more than confident that the investigators now reviewing those 4,000 suspended sexual assault cases will be under tremendous pressure, both from the Mayor’s office and community advocates, to produce alleged offenders subject to indictment in these cases. 


That’s a real slippery slope. 


Stale evidence, especially testimony recollected years later, is easily manipulated, and when there is no evidence to manipulate, other evidence can be manufactured.


In addition to reviewing these old 4,000 suspended sexual assault cases, HPD’s sex crimes investigators must keep pace with the roughly 4,000 new sexual assault reports made each year in Harris County.


Our advice to anyone either facing investigation or arrest for any sexual assault offense in Harris County is this:


The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides five distinct procedural safeguards for those accused of crimes and to secure life, liberty, and property. Those safeguards are:


  • right to grand jury indictment for capital or infamous crime; 
  • double jeopardy: a protection against a second prosecution following an acquittal or conviction; 
  • The Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination: a person charged with a crime cannot be compelled to testify against themselves; 
  • due process: a protection of life, liberty and property from unlawful government action; and 
  • “takings clause,” the power of the government to exercise eminent domain to take private property.


Within this due process safeguard (made applicable to the states by the Fourteen Amendment), the “right to remain silent” was born in 1966 in Miranda v. Arizona.


“A ‘Miranda warning’ refers to the warnings that a police officer is required to give to a detainee based on constitutional requirements.


“The requirement to give Miranda warnings came from the Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966)In Miranda, the Court held that a defendant cannot be questioned by police in the context of a custodial interrogation until the defendant made aware of:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to consult with an attorney and have the attorney present during questioning, and
  • The right to have an attorney appointed if indigent.


“These warnings stem from the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  Without a Miranda warning or a valid waiver of the Miranda rights, statements made may be inadmissible at trial under the exclusionary rule, which prevents a party from using evidence at trial which had been gathered in violation of the United States Constitution.


While it is true that cities in Texas have been starved of state funding for decades and all public services have suffered, it is inexcusable to close out violent cases, especially those involving children, without a complete and professional investigation. 


Given the publicity over the HPD’s scandalous use of the “Suspended – Lack of Personnel” code, we expect the typical knee-jerk reaction from the police and elected officials to overcompensate by charging cases without thorough investigations and proper screening. This rush to prosecute, find suspects, and charge defendants will undoubtedly lead to wrongful arrest and prosecutions. Defense attorneys must be especially vigilant when confronted with one of these cases and carefully review the evidence, question aggressive or sloppy investigative techniques, and thoroughly investigate facts and laws surrounding the allegations.


Our free advice for anyone confronted by law enforcement investigators when approached about possible involvement in criminal activity, and this is especially true in allegations of sex crimes, is not to speak without a lawyer being present. This protection is your right under the Constitution; you must be prepared and proud to exercise it.  


So, remain silent when approached by investigators with questions.


The HPD has a documented history of lying to solve cases and to send people to prison. Don’t be one of them.