According to the Wall Street Journal, Houston has one of the highest overall crime rates of any U.S. city. Houston’s overall crime rate is 92 percent higher than the overall crime rate in Texas. Property crime is much higher in Houston than it is nationwide.
Burglary and auto theft are prime examples of the skyrocketing crime rates in Houston. Both rates are more than double compared to national rates. Violent crime is no exception considering our rates are well above the national average. For example, at 1,072 offenses for every 100,000 people, the violent crime rate in Houston is well above the national violent crime rate of 379 offenses per 100,000 people.
Cities all over the country are reporting a spike in violent crimes and homicides since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wall Street Journal recently ranked America’s 50 most dangerous cities. Not surprisingly, Houston was ranked 21st. Dallas, on the other hand, was ranked 42nd. Chicago, which is generally perceived as one of our nation's most violent cities, came in 33rd.
This disturbing trend halts the decrease in violent crime for the past several years. Certainly COVID-19 has played a role, but other factors including the revolving door at the courthouse are also contributing to the rapidly rising crime rates in Houston.
My research indicates 81 people have been killed or murdered in Harris County in less than two years, with at least 50 victims in 2020 as a direct result of well-intentioned, but poorly implemented bail bond reforms. Last week a defendant was charged with another murder after he had been released on an unprecedented low bond for first-degree murder: $25,000.
The week before, another defendant who had been granted multiple felony bonds failed to report to Harris County Pre-Trial Services and violated his electronic monitoring conditions on a daily basis for over two weeks. He now stands accused of the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
These are just a few examples of what I have been seeing on a routine basis. The ramifications of criminal justice and felony bond reform are indeed a major factor regarding the increasing crime rates in Harris County.
Crime Stoppers wants to make it perfectly clear: We support misdemeanor bond reform. What we don’t support is when public safety is placed at a higher risk when career habitual offenders are continuously released back to the community only to re-offend time after time again. We support the efforts of State Senators John Whitmire and Paul Bettencourt this legislative session regarding the issues of multiple felony bonds and establishing a statewide standardized system that sets bail upon risk to the community. These changes will result in significant improvements to the pre-trial release system in Texas by ensuring equitable treatment of individuals accused of crimes and reducing the likelihood of violent repeat offenders being released back to the community.
Sadly, Houston ranks fourth in the country in homicide rates. We have ballooned from 258 documented homicides in 2018 to more than 400 at the end of 2020. Houston had 31 murders in a two-week period from Nov. 21-Dec. 4. That’s more than two per day. Let’s not forget the Bloody Monday of Nov. 9 in which there were seven homicides. Houston’s murder rates are the highest they have been in at least 15 years.
Keep in mind the above numbers are strictly for Houston. When you include the homicide numbers for Harris County, we are roughly around the 500 mark.
Crime Stoppers believes all of us who live and work in Harris County should be on the same page on behalf of public safety. Increasing crime rates detrimentally affects all of us. Improving public safety has to and must be a non-partisan issue.
As the leading public safety organization bridging the gap between citizens and law enforcement for 40 years, we look forward to having a critical public safety conversation as all of us seek to enhance public safety through positive reform.
Kahan is the Director of Victim Services & Advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.