“The Harris County revolving bail door is literally killing people,” Abbott said.
Seated next to Houston Police Officer’s Union President Doug Griffith, Abbott noted the two men charged in the murder of Constable Deputy Omar Ursin had both been out on bond for charges of murder and capital murder.
Although the state legislature passed some bond reforms in the 2021 sessions, Abbott urged passage of a state constitutional amendment to allow judges to detain some suspects without bond, a measure that failed to garner the two-thirds vote needed in the Texas House last year.
Violent crime and homicides have increased dramatically in Harris County beginning in 2019. According to Crime Stoppers of Houston, there have been at least 182 people murdered allegedly by suspects out on felony bonds, multiple bonds, or personal recognizance bonds over the past few years.
The governor also denounced efforts to defund police, pointing to the record number of murders in Austin after the city took $100 million from the police department. He noted that his Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke has voiced support for defunding police in the past and had praised such efforts in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Last year, O’Rourke retreated from “defunding” rhetoric and has campaigned on promises to create social programs that he says will “prevent crime before it happens,” focusing on funding social workers and diversion courts.
While Abbott touted new state laws that would sanction cities and counties that defund law enforcement, he did not opine on the current dispute between the state and Harris County over whether they had defunded police by clawing back more than $3 million in rollover funds from the constables offices.
Highlighting the problem of rising fentanyl overdose deaths, Abbott said it was crucial to stop the flow of the dangerous drug across the southern border.
“Over the past year, Texas law enforcement has seized enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman, and child in the entire United States of America,” warned Abbott. “This is a mass disaster waiting to happen.”
While adding that one person dies of a fentanyl overdose in Harris County every day, Abbott said that dangerous gangs and previously convicted criminals were among the two million who had come across the border in the past 12 months.
“A United Nations study declared that the U.S.-Mexico Border is the world’s deadliest land crossing,” said Abbott, who then asserted that O’Rourke would not act to keep the border secure.
O’Rourke has criticized Abbott of engaging in political stunts for using the Texas National Guard for enhanced border operations and voluntarily busing some migrants to sanctuary cities such as Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York City. O’Rourke instead has argued that creating more legal pathways and guest worker programs will lead to a safer border.
In response to a reporter’s question on abortion, Abbott ardently defended the state’s prohibition on abortions except for those to save the life of the mother.
“An abortion is taking the life of a baby, and our goal in passing the laws that were passed is to protect the lives of those babies.”
Multiple members of Houston and Harris County law enforcement unions also attended Tuesday’s press conference in support of the governor, along with several Republican members of the Houston delegation to the Texas House.
After the press conference, Abbott also visited briefly with April Aguirre, the aunt of nine-year-old Arlene Alvarez who was accidentally killed last year by a man shooting at an armed robber. Since Arlene’s death, Aguirre has become a vocal critic of Harris County’s approach to police funding and criminal justice reform.
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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.