(The Center Square) – Violent crime and homicide on the rise in major cities in Texas, but homicide increase in Houston leads the United States
And in the state legislature, State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, is trying to do something about it.
73-year-old woman kidnapped and robbed while working; 62-year-old woman shot dead on her way to the gym; individuals shot dead while pumping gas; a shooting in broad daylight in a residential area forcing SWAT to pursue alleged perpetrators on foot and close part of I-10; Harris County deputy sheriff shot dead by offender released on bail for felony theft – all are examples of violent crime that regularly occurs in Houston. And it does not let go.
In June, the country’s third-largest city recorded a 35% increase in homicides, much higher than that reported in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Homicides in Houston have increased faster than any other major city in America, with 222 Houstonians murdered as of June 21, 2021, a 35% increase from 2020 and a 91% increase from 2019.
By comparison, New York’s homicide rate rose 17% and Los Angeles’s by 23%, cities with populations eclipsing Houston’s. Houston’s population of around 2.3 million is almost half that of Los Angeles and almost a quarter of New York’s.
The backlog of court cases in Harris County alone is around 100,000, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a recent press conference. He also pointed out that the increase in gang-related activity was a contributing factor, along with domestic violence and road rage.
The Houston Chronicle reports that there is a “crisis in the courts”. In 2020, 18,796 defendants were charged with new felonies and misdemeanors while on bail, triple the number in 2015. In 2020, in Harris County, approximately 89,600 people were charged with felonies and misdemeanors .
While the Houston Police Department’s homicide division has received more investigators and additional funds for overtime, Governor Greg Abbott has also called on the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide additional support.
Austin is not far behind, although the state capital has a significantly smaller population. Its murder rate increased 79% from May 2021 to May 2020, with kidnappings increasing by 4% and aggravated assault by 15%.
In Dallas, more than 100 people have been murdered so far this year, an increase of 6.25% since 2020. Reports of human trafficking have also increased by 25% since last year.
In many counties, judges are releasing suspected criminals on low-cost bail or without cash bail, which critics say is contributing to the rise in crime.
Last fall, former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters: “If you told me I would be in a big city in the United States and violent criminals would go out in Texas with it. $ 100 bonds, I would have said you’re crazy.
Releasing suspected violent criminals on bail also makes it more difficult to solve the crime, he said, as witnesses are afraid to cooperate.
“If you witness a murder and repeatedly see the murderer come in through a door and a day or two later come back, our level of cooperation drops off quickly,” Acevedo said. “People are afraid, and they should be afraid. “
In January, Abbott made bail reform a legislative priority for the 87th Legislative Session, which the Republican-led legislature failed to pass. Abbott then called a special legislative session to prioritize bail reform and ten other pieces of legislation.
Houston Crime Stoppers, the leading public safety organization in Texas, identified the broken bond system as a public safety issue two years ago.
In late 2019, Crime Stoppers Victim Services Director Andy Kahan noticed that a number of defendants charged with murder were being released on the basis of multiple felony bail, bail forfeiture and / or personal surety. In mid-March 2020, he started tracking court case data. He found that the victims were killed by Harris County suspects who were defendants who had been released on bail for multiple crimes, or had been subject to reinstated bail forfeiture, a request to revoke bail. had been refused and / or had been released on public relations bail.
However, Houston Public Media reports that criminal justice experts argue that the bail policy is not the cause of the escalation in crime.
“The increase in homicides was really widespread, encompassing cities that had embarked on bail reform and those that had not,” said Richard Rosenfeld, criminologist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Rosenfeld co-wrote a report that found homicides rose 30% in 34 major cities, whether or not they implemented bail reform.
But Kahan argues that based on the data he examined, “the revolving door of the courthouse is playing an important and major role in increasing crime rates. Take the courthouse and you will understand what is going on with the crime. “
“Public safety is the main concern right now in Houston and something must be done to protect our community,” said Senator Bettencourt. Bettencourt introduced a law prohibiting magistrates from releasing an accused on public relations bail for offenses committed while on existing public relations bail, or for a felony when two or more other felony charges are pending against the respondent.
His bill, SB 532, never made it out of a Republican-majority committee in the Senate. It was named after Caitlynne Infinger Guajardo, after she and her unborn child were allegedly murdered by a violent offender who was on several public relations obligations.
“America is the land of second chances, but that doesn’t mean you have a third, fourth, or fifth chance to get out and commit a serious offense like shooting a deputy sheriff or killing a Harris County citizen. “said Bettencourt. .