Surge in violent crime blamed on Katrina, lack of HPD manpower
The Chronicle's Allan Turner reports that Katrina refugees are being blamed by HPD for the recent surge in violent crime in Houston:
Violence among Hurricane Katrina evacuees, much of it occurring in southwest Houston neighborhoods targeted in a new anti-crime campaign, accounted for nearly a quarter of homicides in the city so far this year, police officials said Friday.
Since Jan. 1, police have investigated 124 homicides, 29 of which involved evacuees as victims or attackers, said Capt. Dale Brown of the Houston Police Department. There were 103 homicides over the same period last year; without the evacuee-related deaths this year, the city would have experienced a 7.8 percent decrease.
In the last four months of 2005, evacuees were victims or suspects in 18 homicides, accounting for 13 percent of such crimes during that period. A total 336 killings were investigated last year, representing a 22 percent increase over 2004.
"As it relates to murders, there's a definite Katrina effect, and it's most noticeable since December," Brown said.
Turner then suggests that the Katrina effect may not fully explain the surge in violent crime:
Brown's analysis of homicide trends — the numbers were increasing before Katrina evacuees arrived last fall — came as police began evaluating a 10-day experiment in which a mobile command unit was placed in high-crime neighborhoods.
While Katrina evacuees contributed to the growing homicide numbers, [Chief Harold] Hurtt noted that upward trend in Houston was evident as early as last April or May. Hurtt said after that increase was detected, a city-federal task force was created to target violent offenders in southwest Houston neighborhoods. Five hundred suspects were arrested, he said.
Brown said Houston homicides peaked in 1979-83, a period when the department was understaffed as the city experienced a population boom, and again in 1989-91, as the department suffered a three-year hiring freeze as a result of the mid-1980s oil crash. A record 701 slayings were recorded in 1981.
The latest growth in lethal crime has occurred as the police department again has found itself short-staffed.
It doesn't take an advanced degree in criminal studies to come to the conclusion that police manpower probably has some connection with fighting crime.
Until local pols get HPD staffing levels where they need to be, Chief Hurtt is probably going to be forced to continue crimefighting via acronym and temporary sweeps that rely heavily on overtime pay.