Finner also noted that the city has unofficially recorded 300 murders so far this year compared to 304 by the end of August 2021, a decline of about 1 percent.
Of the violent crime statistics presented by Finner, Aggravated Assaults, Human Trafficking, Murder, Robbery, and Sexual Assault were all down from this time last year. Only Kidnapping saw an increase, at about 44 percent.
Although reported homicides are down from last year, the rate is still significantly higher than just five years ago. According to the Texas Incident-Based Reporting System (TIBRS), Houston reported 277 murders in 2018 and 275 in 2019, but in 2020 the number rose to 400. By the end of 2021, HPD reported an unofficial total of 473 murders for the year.
Mayor Sylvester Turner attributed the decrease over last year to his One Safe Houston plan announced six months ago. The initiative includes a wide array of new programs including overtime pay for city police officers to patrol crime hotspots, additional park rangers, and $1 million for a gun buy back program.
Turner told the council he requested HPD data in response to recent criticism of city and county leadership on public safety issues. He specifically referenced a sermon from Rev. Ed Young of Houston’s Second Baptist Church lambasting “left-wing progressives” and urging his congregants to “throw the bums out.”
Turner, who is term-limited and not on the ballot for any office this year, said, “There has been a lot of conversation in terms of where things are crime-wise in the City of Houston. Even coming from the pulpits, which I just take offense to. I’m going to tell you, I’m not a bum.”
He added that Houston is not one of the top 10 cities for homicides per 100,000 people, a list topped by New Orleans and Baltimore.
According to city rating website “Best Places,” Houston’s violent crime earned a score of 50.4 compared to Chicago’s score of 49.9 and a national average of 22.7. Houston’s property crime rating was 63.2 compared to Chicago’s 46.3. The scores are based on 2019 data and do not include the 2020-2021 surges in crime.
While Finner’s data applies to crime within city limits, accurate data for the entire county is more difficult to obtain.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office reports that for the unincorporated portions of the county, there were 97 murders in 2020 and 125 in 2021, but those figures do not include data from other city police departments handling homicide investigations in the county.
TIBRS, a customized portion of the National Incident-Based Reporting System, has not yet reported 2021 numbers. Not all law enforcement agencies participate, but earlier this year, county officials announced there had been more than 600 murders across Harris County in 2021.
In response to the lack of readily available data, earlier this year, Crime Stoppers of Houston announced the founding of a new crime research initiative. This week, it published a website to share information on crime trends, court proceedings, and bail bonds.
“Crime is an ever-growing concern for Houstonians, one that understandably drives emotion,” said Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious in a statement. “It’s an area where we must put everything aside to come together with solutions.”
“Doing that requires access to and an understanding of data but data, particularly in this area, can be difficult to find and understand. Our team has worked hard to gather and digest information from the largest agencies, culling that information and present it in a way all will understand. There’s more to come from our research center and we look forward to its growth.”
Crime Stoppers also reported that 182 people in Harris County have been allegedly murdered by suspects out on multiple bonds over the past few years.
Last weekend proved to be especially violent in the region as a man set fire to a rental complex and then shot and killed three residents. The suspect shot at firefighters before a Houston police officer shot and killed him.
In a separate incident, off-duty Harris County Deputy Constable Omar Ursin was murdered near Lake Houston as he picked up dinner for his family Sunday evening around 6:30 p.m.
While neither Turner nor any city council members are on this year’s ballot, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is fending off a challenge from Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who has swept endorsements from the county’s law enforcement associations.
County leadership has been in the spotlight over accusations of underfunding the jail, refusing to add patrol officers despite rising crime, and taking law enforcement funds previously approved in the 2021 budget.
Incumbent County Commissioners Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) and Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) also face challengers in races where public safety and funding of law enforcement is a top priority for voters.
Young’s sermon prompted speculation that he had violated rules prohibiting political activity for 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, but the law only prohibits churches from endorsing candidates or donating to one candidate over another and pastors frequently opine on political issues from the pulpit.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.