Historic High In Houston Crime

Lauren Rogulski, Staff Writer

HOUSTON, TX – 2020 was a year of constant, unprecedented events. We collectively watched grisly news stories pour in from across the country and around the world. Even our own great city, Houston, was not spared from calamity. 2020 has set a dark record for the highest homicide rate in our cities history since 1993. On December 29, 2020, the homicide rate reached 400. In 2019, Houston’s homicide rate was only 281. That is a spike of 42% in just one year.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Acevedo said it is a combination of issues that are all related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Domestic violence, mental health issues and drug violence are the main sources of the problem, according to Acevedo. With the Stay Home – Stay Safe orders in place, many households are struggling with domestic issues. The crisis behind closed doors has escalated.”

Only adding to the problem, Harris County jails are running out of space and they’re almost at capacity. under normal circumstances the state allows them to house 10,000 inmates. Right now, they have about 9,000. That is the highest it has been since March 2020. A full jail does not allow them to properly social distance inmates that might have been exposed to COVID-19.

The 2019 bond reform is also another variable involved in the issue. Misdemeanor Judges are bound by a Federal Court ruling basically removing cash bail for most misdemeanor charges. District Judges who handle felony cases are not.

When a defendant out on felony bond is arrested on a new felony charge, the judge then has discretion whether or not to revoke the original bond or grant the offender a new bond giving them the chance to return to the community once again. The same defendants released on multiple bonds, are continually being arrested for additional felony crimes and yet are still getting out of jail on new bonds.

Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney said “The enormous backlog of cases just adds to the growing number of criminal defendants whose alleged behavior goes unaddressed. Without a threat of finality to their cases. It is exacerbating the problem.”

Cases were already backlogged due to Hurricane Harvey and have grown more than 35% during the pandemic.

The staggering number of backlogged cases already pending in the Harris County district courts is 47,224 as of November, including 4,602 family violence felonies, 800 murders, 3,931 serious assaults, more than 1,500 sex crimes against children and tens of thousands of other cases all waiting for a resolution.

Long wait times for offenders to appear in court mean little immediate consequences. “We have officers telling us that they get laughed at on the way to the jail by the suspects, ‘Hey man, I’m just going to be out in a few hours and, you know, my case ain’t going nowhere,'” Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said.

Without the court system being able to operate, courts are backlogged at least 18 months, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been 44 homicides in Houston. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said all hands are on deck to tackle the rise in crime within the city.

Turner said in order to combat the shootings and homicides, the city is redirecting police funds to homicide detectives and they’re increasing police presence in areas labeled as “hot spots” based on data.