“At the end of the day,” says Houston police chief Art Acevedo, “we are in the people business. Life is about relationships.” He continues: “We rely on the greatest force multiplier: the people we serve. And whether it’s in your neighborhood, in your church, at your job, or amongst family members, right? It’s about relationships, it’s about the human connection. Treating people with respect, treating people with dignity is not a matter of resources.”

Chief Acevedo in the main conference room at HPD headquarters on Travis Street
 

HPD officer Orus Baldwin and Chief Acevedo shoot a video about the importance of police officers wearing their bulletproof vests at all times.

 

Chief Acevedo with administrative assistant extraordinaire Lydia Gonzalez, who makes sure that her boss’s tightly booked day runs like clockwork. One thing that Acevedo is adamant about: everything that crosses his desk, he signs by hand. AA: “It may seem bizarre, but the most important part of my job is signing — anything that you get with my name on it has my signature. Why give something to somebody if you’re not going to take the time to sign it? I hate electronic signatures, I don’t know why. You can say it’s trivial and a waste of time and I have better things to do. But what’ll happen when I’m in a meeting, I can multitask and I’ll sign ’em and I’ll knock ’em out. Every letter, every photograph, every single departmental commendation that comes through me — I’ll write a note on it. By hand. For six, seven thousand employees. Treating people the way that you want your family to be treated is not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of heart and mindset.”

For Acevedo, it's all about the "human connection."
 

The small anteroom/sitting room leading into Chief Acevedo’s large office is chock-a-clock with memorabilia that stands as testament to his distinguished career in law enforcement. In 1986 he started off in East Los Angeles as a field officer with the California Highway Patrol. Rising steadily through the ranks, Acevedo was named chief of the CHP in 2005. He went on to serve for nine years as chief of the Austin (Texas) Police Department before being sworn in as chief of the Houston Police Department on November 30, 2016. AA: “Mementos and awards are a reminder that what we do matters and is impactful. I display the photos and memorabilia in honor of the many relationships I’ve had the privilege of establishing over 32 years of public service.”

Memorabilia from the chief's 32-year career are a reminder that the work of law enforcement "matters and is impactful."
 

AA in his office at HPD headquarters. “I grew up wanting to be one of three things: West Point graduate, a police officer, or a deputy district attorney. I got my citizenship and I became a cop. It’s just where I was supposed to be. Everything happens for a reason. That’s the story I share with kids. I tell them, “Always have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C.”

 

Heading out to lunch from HPD headquarters, Chief Acevedo stops in his tracks to greet and chat up a group of his officers. AA: “It’s all about relationship policing, and that includes the way that you talk to your employees, the way that you treat your employees. I’m always late because I’ve never met a stranger, right? And I cannot pass somebody without saying hello and — unless I am really late — stopping for a second and asking, loudly: ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ You have got to build emotional capital. That’s what we trade, emotional capital, right? And building emotional capital is an all-the-time job, it’s a very time-consuming process.”

 

AA: “I don’t talk about community policing. I talk about relational policing. I always tell my cops, my employees — every contact you make, whether it’s the clerk at the front desk when someone comes in to file a report or it’s a 911 call — every contact we make is the beginning of a relationship. The question to ask yourself: Am I conducting myself in a manner that I’m going to make us a friend, or am I going to make a foe for the police department? Am I going to make the kind of friend that we need for everything we do? — for our budget ... or for when I’m in front of a grand jury, a grand jury that is going to be judging our actions.”

 

AA: “My dad raised us kids with a real appreciation of history — an appreciation of great history. And for me, one of my dreams would have been going to a place like West Point; it would have been incredible. The hair on the back of my neck stood up thinking about MacArthur, Eisenhower, Robert E. Lee — all the great leaders, all the names throughout our history that walked those grounds.”

 

AA: “It’s just the story of my life. They used to call me el policía, the policeman, when we played cops and robbers because you’d be in for a fight if you wanted me to be the robber.”

 

AA: “I knew you had to be a U.S. citizen to go to West Point. So as a kid I kept bugging my dad to become a citizen: ‘Dad, you need to become a citizen and then I automatically become a citizen, right?’ My dad wouldn’t do it and I was so upset. But I’m a person of faith and I believe that God opens doors that only he can open, right?”

 

AA: “Then my dad finally did become a citizen — and I got my citizenship! And I was sworn in and the judge asked us to raise our right hands. I mean, I had tears coming down from the dream — the greatest dream — of finally being a citizen of the greatest country on earth.”

 

AA: “As imperfect as it is, my dad used to tell us, ‘from here to the moon, kids, there’s no better place on Earth than the United States of America, right?’ Think about it.”

 

@ArtAcevedo | houstontx.gov/police/chief
 

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Photographed by Jennifer S. Altman, Houston, Texas, April, 3, 2018 | Produced by Kenneth Benson