First six months crime stats show mixed results
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I recently obtained HPD’s FBI crime report for the first six months of 2008 and compared the numbers to the first six months of 2007. There are some areas that show significant improvements. However, disappointingly, the situation worsened in some of the more serious crime categories. The total number of violent crimes increased for the first six months of this year to 12,389 from 11,609 for the first six months of last year, a 6.7 percent increase. We do not have the estimated 2008 population for the City yet, but certainly it did not increase by 6.7 percent, meaning that the violent crime rate increased. Rape increased by an alarming 20 percent and aggravated assault by 12 percent. The number of robberies was virtually unchanged at 5,300. On the plus side, the murders were down by 7 percent. Major property crimes showed an even more dramatic drop with burglaries down from 14,209 to 12,492 (-12 percent) and thefts down from 36,289 to 34,484 (-5 percent). Auto thefts dropped a whopping 22 percent from 9,899 to 7,672. All non-violent crime was down by a little over 9 percent. It was also encouraging that there were improvements in clearance rate for most crimes. The clearance rate is the percentage of offenses in which HPD has arrested and charged a suspect. There were significant improvements in violent crimes, increasing from 26 percent to 32 percent, and robberies, increasing from 18 percent to 24 percent. The clearance rate for burglaries continued to be problematic inching up from 7.34 percent to 7.64 percent. For all reported crimes, the rate improved significantly from 24 percent to 31 percent. Notwithstanding the troubling increases in the rape and aggravated assault statistics, the report must, on balance, be viewed positively. If these trends hold up for the entire year, they would represent the most significant improvement in the crime rates in the past several years. Also, many crime experts believe that an improvement in the clearance rates will be followed by lower crime rates. It is always dangerous to attribute increases or decreases in crime to any specific causes. However, there are several recent initiatives which have probably played a part, to-wit: HPD has devoted substantial resources to overtime, providing enhanced patrol and investigative activities, and is gradually increasing its regular compliment of officers; HPD has created special Crime Reduction Units that aggressively patrol high crime areas; HPD has brought its real-time crime center on-line although it is still in the implementation phase; and perhaps most significant, numerous private and community groups have become engaged in crime prevention. For example, the East End Chamber of Commerce has established a Crime Awareness Committee that meets with the community and local law enforcement officers monthly. There is a similar meeting in the Brays Oak area and many other neighborhoods are initiating such efforts. Also, there have been renewed efforts by other private groups such as Crime Stoppers and the Houston Police Foundation. In a month in which Houston’s first Latina police officer was shot to death in a drive-by shooting while watching television from her wheelchair, it is hard to be optimistic. However, unlike many other drive-by shootings, this case was solved and the gunmen arrested. Significantly, it was solved by a tip made to Crime Stoppers. It is a case that shows that when the community and the police work together, we can make a difference. Now is the time to re-double all of our efforts and hope that the faint light seen in the first six months’ statistics is the light at the end of the tunnel. – Bill King Bill King is a lifelong resident of the Houston area. He was born and raised in Kemah, later attended University of Houston where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree. He has enjoyed a varied business career, recently retiring as a managing partner of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson. In the early 1990s, he returned to live in Kemah where he was elected to city council and eventually served two terms as mayor.