Saturday, September 08, 2007

Former HPD Chief Bradford to Challenge District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal in Harris County

The politcial wisdom in Texas is that Democrats are taking over the large counties. They were expected to begin dominating large county elections next decade, but it may have started earlier than expected. In 2006, a Democrat won election to the office of Dallas County District Attorney and the party swept all the Dallas county wide elections. At a town hall meeting this summer, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party said that the party would be trying to do the same thing in Harris County in 2008. Now, comes word that Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal is getting a high name recognition opponent. The Democrats are likely to win many more down ballot races across the country this year, because of the unpopularity of George W. Bush, so Rosenthal could very well lose his bid for re-election if his opponent runs a decent campaign. Now, Democrats need to recruit some quality opponents for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Bradford was Houston's second African-American chief. Lee P. Brown, who resigned in 1990 and later served as Houston's mayor, was the first. Bradford began his career with the Houston Police Department in 1979. After various assignments, he was promoted to assistant chief of police in 1991. Bradford graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern University while working full time as a police officer. He has a law degree from the University of Houston's Bates School of Law.

Sept. 6, 2007, 10:56PM
Former HPD Chief Bradford sets sights on DA post
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Former Houston Police Chief C.O. "Brad" Bradford wants to make neighborhoods safer — not as the city's top cop, but as the county's lead prosecutor.

He plans to take on District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal next November, but he's kicking off his campaign later this month.

Bradford says the DA should address the root causes of crime.

"The district attorney has to understand crime within a community context," he said. "Arrest, prosecution and confinement are not enough."

That doesn't sound like Texas justice as usual. And it may not be what people expect of their DA, especially in Harris County, which has sent more people to death row than any state outside of Texas.

Bradford believes in the death penalty and aggressive prosecution of repeat offenders, but his approach would be a little different than locals are used to. For example, Bradford says he would create a new section of non-lawyer professionals in the DA's office to deal with public health, substance abuse, counseling and crime prevention. His plan sounds like a throwback to the Houston Police Department's community policing.

That approach has been tried in other places and hasn't worked, Rosenthal says.

"Community prosecution is not new. We've looked at it and I haven't found a successful model," he says. "We can't dedicate staff to go be social workers."

Bradford says creating a more user-friendly DA's office doesn't equate to being soft on crime.

Much of Bradford's campaign will be spent reintroducing himself and selling his ideas to the voting public.

Houstonians' minds, however, are largely made up on Bradford. While this is his first run for elected office, he was police chief for seven years. Bradford was first appointed by Mayor Bob Lanier in 1996, and served during most of Mayor Lee Brown's six years.

His tenure was marked by controversy in its latter years.

It included a last-minute pay raise from Brown that increased his pension and an indictment on a perjury charge that eventually was dismissed by a trial judge. The city's crime lab debacle also came to light during his time at HPD's helm. Bradford maintains the pay raise was justified.

"I was entitled to it. I deserved it," he says, noting that he had not received a pay raise in the preceding three years.

It was Rosenthal who prosecuted Bradford on the perjury charge, which a judge dismissed in mid-trial saying the case was weak. Bradford says the perjury case is one more example of Rosenthal's poor judgment. Rosenthal says his office took the facts it had to a grand jury and he doesn't see how that was an abuse of his discretion.

Rosenthal already has questioned Bradford's lack of criminal prosecutorial experience and his handling of the crime lab.

Bradford's responses to those criticisms are that the district attorney does not prosecute cases. The position, he contends, is more administrative. Bradford earned his law degree in 1992, while he was a sergeant on the police force.

As far as the crime lab goes, Bradford says he accepts responsibility for the issues that boiled to the surface during his watch.

"I relied heavily on people with science and technology backgrounds. That was my mistake," he says.

Instead, Bradford says, he should have instituted independent audits. But at least he recused himself and took a step back once evidence was in question, he says, something Rosenthal refused to do.

"I don't know how we could recuse ourselves and get the job done," Rosenthal says. "One of the things we learned is that we needed to be more technologically savvy about what it took to introduce evidence. Now I know about the kinds of things I need to look at (to ensure) the evidence is accurate."

Rosenthal, who was a member of the DA's office for 22 years before running for the top job, says he plans to rely on his experience during his re-election campaign.

In his last election, Rosenthal walked away with 55 percent of the vote against a relative unknown. He's never faced a serious political threat since getting elected in 2000.

Since retiring from the police department, Bradford has served as a senior associate at Brown Group International, the former mayor's consulting group. He's also developed case strategy for the law firm Willie & Associates.

Bradford will make his announcement official Sept. 18 at the Downtown Aquarium.

Departing columnist

The race will be the marquee local election on the ballot next November. I, however, won't be here to cover it. This is my last column for the Houston Chronicle. In October, I will begin writing for the Washington Post.

My time in Houston has defined my career. I started out as a general assignment reporter, working nights in 2001. Nine months later, I became a City Hall reporter. While covering people rooted to this city, I began to feel connected as well.

This city and this paper have given me amazing opportunities. Houston, Harris County and Texas politicians always keep it interesting. I'm sure that won't change.

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