I have three things to say about this.
Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday touted his crime initiative as the reason behind a double-digit year-to-year reduction in violent crime in the first quarter of 2023, but experts say the figures mirror wider national trends and warned it is premature to predict whether the downtrend will continue.
In a report to City Council, Police Chief Troy Finner said Houston experienced a 12 percent decrease in violent crime during the first three months of 2023, compared to the same period last year. The data continue the downward trend highlighted in the Houston Police Department’s January report, which showed a decline in violent crimes between 2021 and 2022.
From January to March, murders saw the largest year-to-year decline at 28 percent, dropping from 152 to 109. Other categories of violent crime also experienced decreases: reported rape by 6 percent, robbery by 10 percent, aggravated assault by 12 percent, kidnapping by 19 percent and human trafficking by 23 percent, according to HPD’s latest figures.
Turner attributed the improvements to the introduction of One Safe Houston, a $44 million initiative launched in early 2022 to tackle crime when the city’s murder rate was on the rise. The plan included additional funds for crime prevention activities, overtime for police patrols, as well as programs to assist domestic violence survivors and individuals experiencing mental health crises.
“I think what’s important to note is that this trend started after we instituted One Safe Houston,” Turner said. “One Safe Houston is working. And it’s now been in effect for more than one year, and the numbers are reflective (of its success). But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Finner said improved coordination with Harris County’s criminal justice system in recent months and more aggressive efforts by prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office also have contributed to the reduced crime rates.
New Orleans-based criminologist Jeff Asher said Houston’s numbers appear to align with broader national trends. The co-founder of AH Datalytics, a consulting firm that analyzes criminal justice data, Asher said a majority of the nearly 70 U.S. cities his company tracks have reported decreases in violent crime so far in 2023.
“The national trend has been a decline in murders and gun violence, so seeing the same thing in Houston is both encouraging and not surprising,” Asher said. “The likelihood is that it’s not small local things that are driving it, but, rather, national changes. But what those changes are exactly is challenging to ascertain at this point.”
1. The national trends are absolutely the main drivers of the drop in crime, just as they were the main drivers of the increase of the past couple of years. There are things that local governments can do to affect their crime rate, both positively and negatively. There are definitely ways in which we could improve how we collect and update and disburse and react to the national data, to help cities and states be more proactive and less reactive. Finally allowing the CDC to collect gun violence data so as to study it as the epidemic it is would help. But whatever we’ve been doing here, the national trends almost certainly have outweighed it.
2. It’s also important to remember that while the citywide trend is positive, the commission of crime is not uniform throughout the city, and so some areas may not only have crime rates that are higher than other parts of the city, they may also still be experiencing increases, or at least not experiencing decreases. A couple of Council members made this point in the story. How we deploy our resources is one way that we can bend the curve further.
3. Remember all those breathless Republican ads from the 2022 campaign about the unrelenting crimeapocalypse in Houston and how only they could do something about it? Yeah. ‘Nuff said.