I’ve heard the rumors and said it myself, crime is up in Houston. Now I see it in print:
City’s homicides up nearly 25% in 2006
With 90 so far, year is on pace to be deadliest in more than a decade
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
The number of homicides in Houston rose nearly 25 percent during the first three months of 2006, compared with the same period last year, despite a multimillion-dollar police effort in the city’s most crime-ridden areas.
The Houston Police Department investigated 90 homicides through Friday, compared with 73 in the first quarter of 2005, police say. That puts the city on track for the deadliest year in more than a decade and would erase the last of the gains made in the 1990s, when the city’s homicide tally was cut in half.
The carnage this year reflects the same trends that police publicized in 2005 after a bloody Thanksgiving weekend and a spate of homicides involving Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans. Police late in the year increased officer overtime pay to focus on the danger, primarily, in southwest Houston apartment complexes and the increased menace of gang violence.
But a Houston Chronicle analysis of 326 homicides that occurred in the city last year shows that those trends were obvious long before the first evacuee-related slaying and the year-end spike that prompted Police Chief Harold Hurtt to direct resources and public attention to these problem areas.
The already high rate of homicides there grew in the final months of last year, at the same time the population in southwest Houston was swelling with Katrina evacuees. The spike in apartment crime helped double the number of homicides in December, compared with 2004. By year’s end, police had investigated 336 killings, a 22 percent increase over the previous year.
Ten of those homicides occurred prior to 2005, but because they were investigated last year, 336 is the figure reported to the FBI as the city’s official homicide total.
Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, who began arriving in Houston after the Aug. 29 landfall, were the victims or suspects in 18 homicides. That was 13 percent of the slayings that occurred between September and December.
Yet Houston City Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former HPD officer, noted that HPD would have seen an increase in homicides without the evacuees.
“We would still have 700 to 1,000 officers less than what we should have, would still be dealing with homicide increases, and gangs and apartment complexes would still be issues,” he said.
Citywide, Houston averages 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents. Other major U.S. cities have between 2.4 and 4.7 officers per 1,000 people, according to a recent New York Times article.