One of the first actions that new Houston Police Department (HPD) chief Troy Finner took after being sworn in on April 5 will have a major impact on the LGBTQ community.
“We approved a full-time resource officer to handle police reports at the Montrose Center,” Finner says, noting that Houston’s LGBTQ resource center had been advocating for a pathway to report crimes in a community-affirming location since 2013.
“[Officer Jackie Boniby] will be here daily, in plain clothes and no police car parked outside,” says Kennedy Loftin, chief development officer at the Montrose Center. “We’re hopeful that this can turn the tide on unreported crimes and better protect our community.”
“So many times, LGBTQ people don’t feel comfortable reporting a crime to police,” says Officer Josephine “Jo” Jones, the department’s LGBTQ community liaison since 2020. Her sister Ethel Joseph, the department’s first LGBTQ liaison, was asked to take the post by then-executive assistant HPD chief Finner in 2014. Having an officer on duty at the Montrose Center was an idea that Officer Jones brought to Finner, who was very supportive.
“It makes me feel good that the chief supports our community and the whole city,” Jones says. “He’s a very real person, and he believes in equality. I don’t want my community to think they don’t matter, because we’re all just really one community—a community of love.”
Finner, a native Houstonian from the Fifth Ward, is a 31-year veteran of the department. He graduated from Madison High School in 1985 and earned his bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University. He also has a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. The married father of five children was unanimously confirmed by Houston City Council to become the first Houston-born African American officer to lead HPD. (The first Black HPD chief was Lee P. Brown, who served from 1982 to 1990 before becoming Houston’s mayor in 1998. He instituted “neighborhood-oriented policing” and the HPD community liaison program.)
“I have family members and close friends in the LGBTQ community,” Finner says. “I think we are doing a great job to support them, but there’s always room for improvement. I support any training we can give.”
Since 2018, the Montrose Center and Equality Texas have been training HPD officers on appropriate terminology for interacting with the LGBTQ community to eliminate misunderstandings while reporting crimes—particularly domestic violence among same-sex couples and hate crimes against trans persons.
The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce posted a note on its Facebook page congratulating Finner on his appointment. “The Chamber recognizes the critical importance of public safety in terms of our economic success as a city,” explains Chamber co-founder, CEO, and president Tammi Wallace. “Ensuring public safety requires strong leadership, and as a longtime HPD officer, Finner brings extensive experience and passion to lead in this role. We appreciate his commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion, both within the department and in terms of community engagement, and we look forward to working with him.”
“I have such love and respect for the LGBTQ community,” Finner says. “They are great people; they are our community. We need to let them know they matter to us.”
Because June is Pride Month, Finner says he’s looking forward to the resumption of Houston’s LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which, like so many events, had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic. “I can’t wait until they bring the Pride parade back,” he says. “I haven’t missed one in 10 years.”
Besides the designated LGBTQ liaison and officer training, HPD also has an off-duty bicycle patrol that has been patrolling the bar area around Pacific Street on Thursday through Sunday nights for more than a decade. With 5,300 employees, the department also sponsors the LGTBQ employee group L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Alliance of Pride) that plans social events for members and organizes a contingent of officers to march in the annual Pride parades.
Finner is pleased that HPD is so affirming and inclusive when it comes to the LGBTQ presence both in the community and within its own ranks.
“It’s the spirit of our great city—the spirit of inclusiveness,” he notes. “And I’m very proud of that.”
For more information on the Houston Police Department, visit houstontx.gov/police.