Reference Entry

Brown, Lee P.

John Herschel Barnhill

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Brown, Lee P.

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reform police commissioner and politician, was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma, the son of sharecroppers Andrew Brown and Zelma Brown. By the 1940s the Browns were in California, picking grapes, watermelon, and cotton. Lee worked the fields, but he was a high school athlete. An athletic scholarship to Fresno State University and a 1960 Fresno State B.S. in criminology enabled him to pursue police work. He became a San Jose police officer in 1960 even before graduation. In 1964–1965 he was head of the San Jose police union.He received his M.A. in sociology from San Jose State University in 1964 and became an assistant professor there in 1968, the same year he earned his master's degree in criminology from the University of California, Berkeley. Brown moved to Portland State University in 1968 as chair of the Department of Administration of Justice. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California‐Berkeley in 1970. In 1972 he became associate director of Howard University's Criminal Justice programs and in 1974 moved to Portland, Oregon, to serve as Sheriff of Multnomah County, the state's most populous county. In 1976 he became director of the Multnomah County Department of Justice Services.His first national attention came during his tenure as first black public safety commissioner of Atlanta, Georgia, from 1978 to 1982. The 1980 Atlanta child murders included twenty‐four black victims. Many assumed the killer was white, and racial tensions rose. Brown's steady presence calmed the city, and later Wayne Williams, a black man, was convicted of two murders.His Atlanta publicity brought Brown to the attention of Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire, who appointed Brown as the city's first black police chief in 1982. The department at the time was noted for anti‐black and anti‐Hispanic brutality. Brown implemented classes in sensitivity, punished repeat offenders, and recruited minority officers. His police department developed a rapport with the minority communities that had long feared HPD officers.Positive community relations and community support for the police were the basis of Neighborhood Oriented Policing, the community policing approach that 70 percent of U.S. police departments adopted. Police patrolled on foot and maintained a visible presence in high crime areas. Brown decentralized the police department by building district stations, the first of which was Westside. He also emphasized direct involvement of citizens in crime prevention and community protection. He established public school anti‐drug programs. In 1987 Houston had its lowest homicide rate since 1977.He moved to New York City for two years as police commissioner. After his first year, all categories of crime were down, and the city experienced the sharpest drop in crime in its history.As President Bill Clinton's director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy from 1993 to 1996, Brown continued to emphasize direct community involvement. He expanded the ONDCP programs to include prevention and intervention for drug use and addiction reduction.Brown returned to Houston to teach at Rice and Texas Southern universities. Then he became Houston's first black mayor. Inaugurated in 1998, Brown served a term‐limited three terms, relinquishing the post in 2004. Houston acquired metro light rail, the Houston Texans, three new professional sports venues, a convention center hotel, and new or renovated police and fire stations and libraries. Decentralization for easier access furthered his goal of neighborhood‐oriented government.Houston in 1999 became the largest city to declare a public health emergency due to AIDS in the black community, and Brown's health department involved the community, increased the number of people who knew their HIV status, and promoted intervention to prevent transmission.Brown cofounded the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and chairs Brown Group International, which deals in crisis management, homeland security, public safety, and other matters. He served as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and worked actively in various community and professional organizations. Awards include membership in the Gallup Hall of Fame (1993), the Cartier Pasha Award (1992), and National Father's Day Committee Father of the Year (1991).Brown also coauthored Police and Society: An Environment for Collaboration and Confrontation (Prentice‐Hall, 1981) as well as numerous papers and articles on crime, the criminal justice system, police management, and community policing.In 2009 Brown testified in the civil suit of George Rodriguez, wrongfully convicted of rape because a crime lab employee lied about blood evidence. Media reports in 2002, Brown said, were the first information he had about problems other than understaffing of the lab during his tenure as police chief.Brown has four grown children by his late wife, Yvonne. As of 2011 he resided in Houston with his second wife, Frances.

Reference Entry.  854 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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