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What Katrina crime wave?

So remember how there was this big increase in crime in Houston in the months after Katrina evacuees arrived here? Well, it turns out that the crime data indicates otherwise.

Five criminologists who reviewed crime statistics published a study in the current issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice, and found only a “modest” increase in the murder rates of Houston and Phoenix, and none in San Antonio, three cities that took in thousands of evacuees from storm-ravaged New Orleans.

The researchers did not find an accompanying rise in auto theft and assaults and other crimes, which they said would have been expected if dispossessed evacuees were responsible for a crime hike.

“What we found in Houston was there appears to be an increase in some categories of crime, in particular murder and robbery, during the Katrina time period when the evacuees came to Houston. There was no significant change in rape, aggravated assault, burglary or auto theft,“ said lead author Sean P. Varano, an assistant professor who teaches criminal justice at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

Varano said the study was conducted to see whether anecdotal information and media reports about a rise in crime caused by Katrina evacuees was real. After the powerful August 2005 hurricane flooded New Orleans, Houston’s population swelled 7 percent as it welcomed nearly 240,000 evacuees, while San Antonio received about 30,000 evacuees and Phoenix 6,000, the study said.

Provocative stuff. I don’t feel qualified to make a real critique of the study or its methods, but I will say that if this is accurate, it would be another example of Katrina survivors being victimized again by rumors being reported as fact and a public that was a little too willing to believe it.

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3 Comments

  1. JJMB says:

    Two odd things about that article. One, there WAS an increase in murder and robbery. That seems worrisome to me.

    Two, the study started with Jan 2004. As I recall, HPD saw lots of increased crime in October, November, December 2003. And they arrested and puts lots of ex-N.O. residents in jail during that period. There was tons of overtime, and lots more arrests. Same with Jan, Feb, March, April….. These actions by HPD — including taking bad guys out of circulation for the next 3-8 years — helped to take an immediate post-Katrina crime surge and depress it by the time you study the Jan 2004 to Sept 2006 period. Where’s the Sept to March study? I believe that that study would have showed a big increase. I wonder why the studiers didn’t study that time period?

    As an aside, I heard from police officers back then that they got some decent help from some other ex-N.O. residents, tipping and informing on the bad guys, who were of course victimizing their fellow ex-N.O.ers as well as Houstonians. And of course HPD protected 1000s of innocent ex-NOers as well as Houstonians.

    Exaggerating the criminal tendencies of ex-NOers is a bad thing. And I want nothing to do with the small crowd of panic-y, racist, put them all in jail types who TV news put on the air in the same way that they broadcast nothing but fires and bad car wrecks. But I also don’t want to side with those who blind themselves to the reality that when a quarter-million people from a high-crime city move into town, a lot of criminals are going to tag along.

  2. mary t. says:

    One odd thing about your comment about increased crime in October, November, December of 2003 being attributable to ex N.O. residents–Hurricane Katrina occured in September 2005. Google is your friend. . .

  3. mary t. says:

    Google is my friend too, because what I meant to say was the influx of Katrina refugees began in September 2005, the hurricane actually made landfall in Louisiana on August 29.