The letter, signed by First Assistant District Attorney and Chief of Courts David Mitcham, points out that Berry used statistics that were incorrectly skewed — in part due to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office failing to report any crime data for the month of September.
During the October 25 meeting of the commissioners court, Berry delivered a slide show presentation based on reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety showing a county-wide year-to-date comparison, during which he claimed violent crime had decreased by 12 percent.
“The statistics he used to make this point, however, were incorrectly skewed to reflect an unwarranted, major drop in crime, as they were derived from an incomplete, and thereby incorrect, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) report that did not include thousands of instances of aggravated robberies, rapes, murders, and other crimes handled by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office,” wrote Mitcham.
Mitcham, who is board certified in criminal law from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, noted that the missing data constitutes 11 percent of the period under review. He also pointed out that DPS warns users that the reporting requirement for police agencies is annual, not monthly, and thus year-to-date reports “may contain inaccuracies, be incomplete or not reflect every incident that may have occurred within the specified jurisdiction for the requested time frame.”
Furthermore, Mitcham cited DPS warning of a time lag between when an incident of crime occurs and when the police agency reports that incident to DPS.
“The administrator’s conclusion, based on obviously incomplete data, defies what has been experienced by crime victims, law enforcement officers, and those who work on the front lines of the criminal justice system. Crime is not significantly down in Harris County – far from it,” wrote Mitcham.
Although Texas DPS indicates there were 633 murders reported for Harris County last year, the medical examiner’s office reported that 720 deaths were ruled as homicides in 2021.
In addition to reporting zero crimes for the month of September, a sheriff’s office spokesman confirmed to The Texan that there were “technical” problems creating errors in reporting sex offenses for several months. Consequently, the agency reported 74 rapes for the month of June, but only 1 in July and zero in August, further skewing any comparisons with 2021 data.
Sent on official HCDAO letterhead bearing the name of elected district attorney Kim Ogg, Mitcham concluded:
“Declaring a substantial decline in crime based on incomplete, and therefore incorrect, data is inherently misleading. Commissioners Court should require a public retraction from Administrator Berry for his broadcasting such an erroneous report to this Honorable Court.”
Although the County Administrator’s Office did not respond to inquiries last weekend, following The Texan’s breaking story, the office took to social media to issue a statement acknowledging that there were some technical errors, but that “the overall trend does not change.”
Despite the sheriff’s office indicating data collection and reporting problems extending through the summer, Berry claimed “the overall trend does not change,” and did not address the reporting lag issue on other crimes.
“If you look at monthly averages through August 2022, reported homicide is down 10 percent year over year.”
Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) also issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “Either Administrator Berry was aware of the omitted information and proceeded with the presentation, or he didn’t do his due diligence before presenting such crucial information – both of which are unacceptable for the highest paid employee in Harris County government.”
County Judge Lina Hidalgo pressed for the creation of the new office of county administrator despite public opposition in June 2021, under advisement from the controversial PFM Consulting Group to which county taxpayers have paid over $7 million according to the county auditor.
Berry was appointed to the position last summer and earns a base salary of $385,000 to oversee county departments not headed by elected officials. He, along with new Budget Director Daniel Ramos brought in from Baltimore, MD earlier this year, wields a lot of control over the budget of HCDAO and other county law enforcement agencies.
Polling this year consistently indicates that public safety is a top concern in Harris County, and Hidalgo’s election battle with challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer has drawn national attention. The latest poll shows Mealer with a 2 point lead over Hidalgo, and Mealer has set county records by amassing a campaign donation haul of $8.6 million, with $3.7 million of the total coming in after September 30.
While Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have insisted crime is down from last year’s peak, on Tuesday, the murder of popular rap artist Kirsnick Khari Ball, known as “Takeoff,” drew national attention and prompted Jackson State University head football coach Deion Sanders to prohibit his players from leaving their hotel this weekend while in town for a game against Texas Southern University.
The HCDAO letter urges commissioners court to “seek out the truth and set the record straight” by “examining the evidence, doing the arithmetic, and then taking the appropriate corrective action.”
Commissioners will meet Wednesday to certify the adoption of a tax rate, but will not have a regular public meeting until November 15.
A copy of Mitcham’s letter can be found below.
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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.