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Announcing New Violent Crime Crackdown in Houston, Governor Abbott Stretches Facts

Announcing New Violent Crime Crackdown in Houston, Governor Abbott Stretches Facts
Courtesy of the office of Governor Abbott
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There's no denying it: In recent weeks and months, Houston has seen some pretty gruesome crimes.
There was the time last month members of the MS-13 gang kidnapped, drugged, raped and killed a teenage girl for insulting their satanic god. The time two men hopped out of a car and opened fire on a group of people at the Haverstock Hills apartment complex, killing two and injuring two others, including a former America's Next Top Model contestant. And the time an eight-year-old girl was gunned down on the freeway, a bystander caught in the crossfire.

Governor Greg Abbott recounted each of these crimes and a half dozen others at a news conference in Houston Monday, unveiling funding for a violent crime crackdown in Houston and Harris County. He said violent crime is increasing "at an alarming rate" in the area. The governor rattled off his list of recent violent crimes, painting a discomforting portrait of Texas's largest city.

"This recent wave of senseless violence cannot continue," Abbott said. "We must remember that government's foremost responsibility is to keep our citizens safe and secure, but it takes more than words. It takes action. To help restore law and order, I am immediately directing state resources to a violent crime initiative in Harris County."

The Governor's Criminal Justice Division is handing more than $500,000 to the Texas Anti-Gang Center in Houston, and the governor said he plans to deploy more Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety special agents to the area, plus more intelligence technology such as air assets and tracking systems.

To make his case for this alleged crime wave, Abbott relied mostly on 2017 news reports and preliminary 2016 crime data for Harris County and Houston that has yet to be made final. According to the data DPS and Abbott used, the violent crime rate in Houston increased just over 13 percent from 2015 to 2016. But that data is at odds with HPD's own data, which was also published in New York University Brennan Center for Justice's annual national crime report in late December. HPD and the Brennan Center for Justice both record a 7.7 increase in violent crime in Houston, with assaults accounting for much of that increase (up 18.8 percent). The murder rate was stagnant, with 303 murders in 2015 compared to 302 in 2016.

To talk about murders in Houston, instead of citing HPD's own data, Abbott pointed to a September 2016 KPRC report titled "Houston 1 of 3 cities driving national murder rate, report says." The report forecasted 326 murders in Houston by the end of the year based on trends up to September. It was a body count Houston thankfully never reached.

Taken in the context of the past ten to 25 years, Houston's violent crime rate, despite increasing over the past year, is perhaps not increasing at such an "alarming rate" as Governor Abbott claims it is. In the past ten years, the violent crime rate has decreased, falling from 1,169 per 100,000 people in 2006 to 995 per 100,000 people in 2016 (according to the Brennan Center for Justice). Back in 1991 there were a whopping 608 murders and a violent crime rate of 1,599 per 100,000.

Had the governor invited HPD or the Harris County Sheriff's Office to the press conference, perhaps they could have helped him get his facts straight — though surely, they'll happily accept the extra help.

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