“As the leaders of our community make difficult decisions about public safety, we are grateful to be able to provide clear and consistent data to the community via our research center,” said Sydney Zuiker, Director of CSH’s Safe Community Institute, during a press conference Wednesday.
Zuiker shared mid-year statistics on homicide, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and firearm-related offenses, stating that while incidents had decreased somewhat this year compared to last, since 2020 Harris County homicide had risen by 24 percent, sexual assault by 3 percent, and aggravated assault by 11 percent.
According to Zuiker, the largest increases in crime came from children killed due to gun violence, which she said had increased by 333 percent across the state of Texas.
“Even if we eliminated the children lost in the Robb Elementary shooting, the number of children killed due to gun violence in Texas is still more than double that of the killings last year.”
State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), one of several elected officials who joined the press conference, said that there were many issues that could bring the community together but none were more important than fighting violent crime.
“If we do not get violent crime under control in our community, none of the other issues really matter.”
Whitmire, along with Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, praised Crime Stoppers for offering rewards for solving crimes and assisting victims and their families. The three also repudiated recent attempts to discredit the organization.
“Crime Stoppers isn’t the problem. In fact, they’re part of the solution,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez added that criminals in the community were emboldened due to a lack of accountability and urged authorities to crack down on illegal possession of firearms.
“If we could make sure that we’re imposing certainty of punishment for illegal carrying of a weapon, I bet you that will help prevent future killings.”
In several recent high-profile cases, suspects arrested for murder in Harris County had been released on bonds for Felon in Possession of a Weapon, including a suspect charged with the “execution-style” killing of 9-year-old Kylie Sorrells.
April Aguirre, the aunt of murdered 9-year-old Arlene Alvarez, accused Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo of misleading the community about spending on public safety and spending time on resolutions.
“Why did the sheriff, every single constable, and our D.A. stand before commissioners court and ask for more if they were giving billions?” asked Aguirre, who noted the county had spent $50 million “to fight crime by adding more streetlights.”
“Before you sit there Lina Hidalgo, before you tell Governor Abbott to do your job, you do yours. You need to focus on Harris County,” said an emotional Aguirre.
Due to the federal lawsuit settlement in a misdemeanor bail bond case known as ODonnell, Harris County pays for a federal monitor to report on some aspects of the county’s criminal justice system and has created a new Justice Administration Department and dashboards on bail and courts.
Last year, CSH had offered to work with the county in compiling data and reports on crime, but Hidalgo objected, saying she wanted to only work with groups that did not have an “axe to grind.”
CSH Victim’s Advocate Andy Kahan said that according to his analysis, since 2018, at least 175 residents of Harris County had been allegedly murdered by suspects out on multiple bonds, a statistic included in the organization’s first mid-year report on crime.
The first full report of the Houston Crime Index will be available this fall and include listings of criminal court judges and magistrates, the number of cases each holds, and other specialized issues such as the number of defendants who re-offend while out on bond, are wanted fugitives with forfeited bonds, and which courts have the highest number of capital murder or aggravated robbery defendants released on personal recognizance or low bonds.
Other elected officials who attended the press conference included Harris County Constables Alan Rosen, Mark Herman, and Ted Heap. Local icon Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale also announced he had shifted 25 percent of his business advertising budget to run ads on behalf of CSH using testimony from Aguirre and other victims’ families.
“Crime Stoppers of Houston has been supporting all aspects of the public safety, especially our local law enforcement for over 40 years,” said CSH Chief Executive Officer Rania Mankarious. “This work has arguably never been more important, and speaking for our entire team, we remain all in.”
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer 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.