© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Capitol Riot, Law Enforcement Officials Try To Remove Extremism From The Ranks


The January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has prompted FBI and local law enforcement agencies to try to identify those who participated in the assault. Some of the white supremacist conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazis so far identified seem to be among the very people we rely on to protect the public - police officers, firefighters, some current and former military members. Now security officials must also try to figure out how to root out extremism within their ranks.

We're joined now by Chief Art Acevedo, chief of police at the Houston Police Department. Chief, thanks so much for being with us.

ART ACEVEDO: Hey, thank you, Mr. Simon. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, one of your officers has been detained, Tam Pham, an 18-year veteran of the force. He has resigned. He denies committing any acts of violence. But what's your reaction?

ACEVEDO: Well, I was incredulous. The thought that one of our police officers - or any police officer, for that matter - whether or not they participated in violence, whether or not they participated in the destruction of property, to think that they could be part of a mob - in a mob that many people were set on sedition or even maybe murder - it's just flabbergasting. I think it's angered us. But it is what it is. And now we have to try to continue our investigation identifying the other officers across the country that may have been there and everyone else because they all need to be held accountable, and they need to be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

SIMON: Well, let me understand how you see that law, Chief. I mean, for example, does a police officer, a Houston police officer, have a right to attend a rally?

ACEVEDO: Yeah, absolutely. Look; police officers have the same First Amendment rights as others. And so any officer that might have gone to former President Trump's rally, that's within their rights. But any officer that went beyond that in terms of going through that Capitol, being part of the mob and entering that Capitol and committing any other crime.

And I would add that unlike some of the insurrectionists that we saw, police officers took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, to abide by the rule of law. They not only violate the laws; they also violated their solemn oath. And I think for that, there should be some additional consequences.

SIMON: What are you and the department doing to see if Officer Pham is the only person?

ACEVEDO: In this instance, as it relates to the Capitol attack, our federal partners and our own officers and investigators that work jointly with the joint terrorism task forces across the country - they're utilizing technology to try to do three things - identify those who participated in the attack. Two, we try to use technology to identify and preclude people from those mindsets that are not consistent with what we require of our police officers and hearts - we want people with good hearts and minds - to keep them from being police officers and also to try to identify those that might've already made it onto our lands.

SIMON: I noticed a phrase when you said you have to be alert for - officers have to have the right mindset. The implication is that there are just certain thoughts Houston police officers can't hold, whether or not they ever act on them.

ACEVEDO: We are a public service agency. And we're here for the greater good of the American people. If I find out that someone thinks that African Americans are subhuman and not worthy of the air that we breathe, whether or not they've acted on that, that is not the mindset that we want as a police officer - right? - because policing is for people that understand that every human being that we come in contact with has the same equal value.

SIMON: It sounds like there are certain phrases that would pique your interest and would set off questions, if not a formal investigation.

ACEVEDO: Yes, and I think that's the same for any person. When we're looking at social media - and this is kind of the problem that we have in our country in terms of domestic terrorism, right? Looking back in the last 10, 15 years, there are a lot of extremists. They don't all speak Arabic. Many of them were born and raised here. They happen to be Caucasian. They happen to be American. They happen to be homegrown. And they happen to be the No. 1 threat, according to the FBI's threat assessments, here in the last couple of years.

SIMON: Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police, thanks very much.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Have a great weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.