When it comes to crime statistics, there's good news and bad news -- depending on which part of town you live in.
But Police Chief Sam Nuchia apparently thinks citizens, including City Council members, have a right to hear only the good news.
And the good news, Nuchia reported to City Council on January 25, is that according to Houston Police Department figures the city experienced a 9.3 percent drop in its overall crime during 1994 and a 29 percent reduction compared to 1991, the year before Mayor Bob Lanier took office.
But Nuchia was less forthcoming when it came to revealing statistical breakdowns by specific neighborhoods. In fact, Nuchia wasn't forthcoming at all when he was asked by Councilman Ray Driscoll to provide crime figures for the Gulfton area, which is in Driscoll's District F. What the chief did come forth with was a rambling and disquieting exposition on why the public shouldn't have access to such information:
"We have a situation that makes that difficult. Because, if you represent the Gulfton area, if I give them to you, if I collect them and give them to you, I have to also give them to our friends in the media. And our friends in the media would be glad to point out what the highest crime areas in the city are, and I don't think that's healthy for that community to have itself identified as the third highest or the second highest or anything like that.
"And it puts me in a bad spot. We do the same thing, as you notice, with the Fifth [Ward] group. We don't give a specific address out to the folks because we don't want to identify someone's place of business or someone's apartment complex, or someone's home as the highest thing. There's a risk, there's a balancing act there. And I have tried to keep from saying... You know, we say Fifth Ward, but we don't focus any more than that, and so we try not to ever do that.
"Probably the best thing we could do is for you and I to visit personally and discuss things and let me provide you with some information that you might need ... that way, rather than identify anybody's neighborhood or community as high crime. I don't hesitate to identify low, but I don't ... and I'm not addressing Gulfton or one of the others .... That's the problem that we're in. And I know that a number of councilmembers have been concerned because [they've said], 'Why can't I get all the statistics on everything that I want?' The answer is sometimes it's not the kind of thing that we should collect and make a public record."
At that point, Lanier, whose appointees' penchant for secrecy has been a bane of his administration, interrupted the chief. He promised to "review" Driscoll's request with Nuchia, then get back to the councilman. "That may be a downside," he said, apparently in reference to Nuchia's concerns, "but on the other hand I generally speak in favor of getting information out."
The next day, a podium-pounding Lanier used his "State of the City" address at the Brown Convention Center to scold the media for downplaying the portion of the crime stats trumpeted in an HPD press release that showed significant drops in crime in the Third and Fifth wards.
Residents in or near Gulfton who'd like to see crime figures for that area, and who, like the mayor, are in favor of getting information out, can use the Texas Open Records Act to request those statistics from HPD. Of course, if they're members of the City Council, they can just get the figures from Nuchia in a private meeting.
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