Wave of promotions shakes up Houston Police Department leadership

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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo promoted eight captains and seven assistant chiefs to his command staff Wednesday, a move law enforcement veterans say is one of the biggest leadership turnovers in the department’s history.

The promotions come as part of a dramatic shift within the department after an exodus of most of its command staff brought on by impending pension reform that could affect retirement.

“We’re promoting people today because they have proven and demonstrated through their careers … that they come to work everyday not for self, but for the mission… to make a difference,” Acevedo said, at the hour-long promotion ceremony at the Houston Police Academy in north Houston.

The seven people promoted to assistant chief are Wendy E. Baimbridge, Lori A. Bender, William Dobbins, Henry J. Gaw, James G. Jones, Larry J. Satterwhite, Jr. and Bruce D. Williams.

Acevedo also promoted eight lieutenants to captain: Craig H. Bellamy, Ernest Garcia III, Tinsley R. Guinn-Shaver, Megan E. Howard, Pete Lopez, Belinda G. Null, Paula K. Read and Salam Q. Zia. The department also recently announced the impending promotion of three other lieutenants.

All told, the department has seen a complete turnover at the executive assistant chief level and the assistant chief level with the exception of one holdover from Acevedo’s recent predecessors.

At the captain’s rank – just under assistant chief – about 30 percent of the 43 positions have turned over since October.

The wave of change is unprecedented but should not cause problems for HPD’s operations, law enforcement veterans said.

“We have so many qualified people with a wealth of institutional knowledge that we won’t miss a beat,” said Joseph Gamaldi, a vice president of the Houston Police Officers Union.

The assistant chiefs will now oversee a raft of new responsibilities that go with the new positions: overseeing operations in the department’s three patrol regions, and its investigations, support and homeland security commands.

Acevedo assumed the post in December from Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo, who stepped in after Chief Charles A. McClelland’s resignation early last year.

McClelland said during his tenure, the department usually lost an assistant chief every few years.

“The department has never experienced this type of turnover, ever,” he said, expressing confidence in the new leaders but warning that they face a “steep learning curve.”

Perhaps one of the most challenging elements of their job will be to motivate their subordinates, he said, before imparting a quick piece of advice.

“Influence is the ability to get someone to follow you, because they believe in you, they trust you, they understand your vision,” he said. “Expand your sphere of influence.”

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