Murders skyrocket; HPD Chief says good luck protecting yourselves!
The Chronicle's Mike Glenn reports that the city's homicide rate has exceeded last year's after a deadly Thanksgiving weekend:
Houston had 274 homicides in 2004 and the killings during the four-day holiday weekend brought the figure for this year to 285.
Detectives acknowledged that the number of cases they investigated during the four-day period seemed high, but police officials on Sunday could not say whether the figures amount to a dramatic increase from the same period last year.
KHOU-11's Amy Tortolani fares a little better:
Houston police said they had 14 homicides to work over the holiday weekend. But is this a true indicator of the city's crime situation?According to investigators, it was a record number of murders for the city.
So far there have been 285 murder victims in Houston this year. That number is 11 greater than the 274 victims in 2004, and there is still one month left in 2005.
Houston police have no explanation for the increase in murders.
Psst... HPD's manpower shortage perhaps? (Mayor White and his Council would prefer the city's journalists not bring up their inadequate response to that ongoing problem).
Chief Hurtt has this useful advice:
"Not only are we going to be doing it from a police department standpoint, I've also been talking to community groups about them becoming more active in crime prevention, protecting their own property as well as looking out for their neighbors," said Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt.
Translation: HPD is so short on manpower that it can't provide for the public safety as it has in the past. Good luck everyone!
UPDATE (11-29-2005): In the 10 pm broadcast, KHOU's Jeff McShan addressed HPD's manpower shortage:
Houston just set a record for holiday weekend murders and many want to know why.
Both the police chief and the mayor said they did not think hurricane evacuees factored into the crime numbers
When you call HPD, your calls go to Houston's Emergency Center (HEC).
But before they're dispatched to an actual officer who's working the streets there has to be one available. More often than you may realize, locating someone may take several hours.
This is true especially if you live on the city's west or southwest side.
"Anybody who either lives, shops or works west of the Galleria should really be concerned about this because this side of town is significantly undermanned," said Mike Cummings, Public Safety Director for the Westchase Business District. He is also a former HPD officer.
Now he hires off-duty HPD officers to patrol the 80 businesses in his business district, just to keep them safe.
Cummings spent hours going through public records and putting together a detailed report that shows the lack of police presence citywide.
"I looked at everything throughout the city and basically was able to determine, using several models, that the west side of town is significantly undermanned," Cummings said.
Cummings says to properly patrol the Westside District the department would need 506 officers. Right now they have just 403.
He also looked at numbers when it comes to violent crime.
"Based on the different studies that I did, just using the Westside Patrol area, it is anywhere from 70 to 113 officers down))
His report also shows that the Fondren and Southeast substations are severely short staffed.
A few months ago HPD Union president Hans Marticiuc told 11 News the staffing issue hinders officers' ability to fight crime.
"We're getting calls all the time. We've got officers working in districts by themselves. Sometimes roll calls are just two or three people for the entire roll call," he said.
Mayor White engages in spin at the end of the story, but the fact is that his administration's response to the manpower shortage has been inadequate, and that he's simply had other priorities.
UPDATE 2 (11-29-2005): The Chronicle now says the murder spree wasn't a record:
The weekend slayings, while by far outnumbering those of the past five years, are not the most ever in the city's history. On a single weekend in June 1981, from Friday evening to Sunday night, 21 people were slain in Houston.
Here's Chief Hurtt's proposed solution:
Hurtt said he has talked with Mayor Bill White about adopting an ordinance requiring apartment complexes with high rates of crime to hire security officers.
"We are very much concerned about apartment complexes," Hurtt said. "Anytime you have a large cluster of people living in an area like an apartment complex, there is always the opportunity for conflict, robberies and property crimes."
Frank Michel, the mayor's communication director, confirmed that Hurtt had met with White and discussed the idea of requiring security officers at high-crime complexes.
"The mayor is receptive to that idea," Michel said.
Translation: Good luck protecting yourselves, Houstonians!
MayorWhiteChiefHurtt simply are not serious about HPD's manpower shortage. The problem is not mentioned by the Chronicle. It probably wasn't mentioned in Chief Hurtt's press release or in the conversation with the administration's PR man Frank Michel.
UPDATE 3 (11-29-2005): KTRH-740 posts the following:
Some in the business community say the problem is a police staffing issue. The head of the police union is due at City Hall today to discuss his concern that police academy classes aren't keeping pace with retirements.
Business community? The head of the police union is part of the business community? KHOU (and the bloggers here) are part of the business community? Interesting label.