Houston Police Chief Speaks About Situation In City Following Hurricane Harvey

Originally published on September 1, 2017 9:31 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo has been helping to lead the city's response to Harvey. Now as the city begins to move from the search and rescue into the recovery phase, we wanted to check back in with him. Chief Acevedo is on the line now. Thank you for joining us once again.

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO: Hey. Thanks for having me, and thanks for telling our story here in Houston.

SHAPIRO: We last spoke to you on Monday. Have you slept since then?

ACEVEDO: A little bit - enough, enough. There'll be time to sleep later.

SHAPIRO: When we spoke then, you said you think this will go down in history as the worst flooding of all time. Now that you've had a few days to take stock, is this situation better or worse than you had feared?

ACEVEDO: I think it's as significant as I had feared, and - but I am so heartened by the fact that so far, the deaths out of this storm of a lifetime, of historical proportions has been so low. It's just so much we have to be grateful for.

SHAPIRO: Well, your officers are partly to thank for that. And I know that during this flood, you lost one of your own, a veteran officer, Steve Perez.

ACEVEDO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You became emotional as you paid tribute to him at a news conference on Tuesday. Have you and your staff had any opportunity to mourn and remember him?

ACEVEDO: You know, we mourn as we move, right? I mean we haven't had the opportunity to actually sit and mourn him. But believe me. Everybody's mourning him in their own way. I had an officer today when I was visiting with my officers call me outside and tell me a story about Steve. He started crying. I started crying.

And it's just - what - instead of mourning, he's actually - we're using him as a point of inspiration. We want to finish this mission. And we know we're across the 50-yard line, but now we want to take it all the way into the end zone and help our community secure a victory out of this big, large, tragic event.

SHAPIRO: Well, tell me about how your mission changes as the sun comes out and the floodwaters recede.

ACEVEDO: Well, you know, our fire department partners - brothers and sisters with our assistance are - they're conducting secondary searches. And they're getting well ahead of that. Unfortunately today we see water still rising in the west side of the city, in the memorial area. And the mayor, Mayor Turner, issued - very strongly issued evacuation orders that are not mandatory but strongly, strongly encouraged because we still have people in flooded homes, living upstairs.

And unfortunately, they will not be able - that water will not - we recede for 14 or 15 days, and we can't afford to continue to risk our men and women and the fire department's men and women delivering food and supplies so they can stay in their house. It's not safe, and that's what's been going on, too. That's been the biggest issue today.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I know that after other disasters such as Katrina, looting has been a big problem. It was something you cautioned people not to do earlier in the week. Have you seen that problem?

ACEVEDO: It is. We've had less crime occurring here in terms of burglaries, which, you know - outside of a natural disaster, you'd call it a burglary. During - right after the aftermath of natural disaster, we call it looting. We've had fewer instances because of the high visibility of the police department and all of our partners in law enforcement and the air assets and everything else that we've deployed, including some of our friends from the FBI and other federal agencies in undercover cars.

We've got the city blanketed. We're not going to mess around. And I think the criminals do a risk-benefit assessment, and they know that right now the risk of getting caught is very high, and the penalty is going to be worse than usual.

SHAPIRO: Well, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, the whole country is thinking of you and your city, and we appreciate your time.

ACEVEDO: Hey, thank you for telling our story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.