As the race for District Attorney continues to heat up, Democratic challenger Kim Ogg is talking weed policy again -- and this time, she's questioning the low number of burglary cases Devon Anderson, the incumbent DA, has prosecuted compared to misdemeanor pot charges pursued by the office.
Citing the 10,903 marijuana cases she says were prosecuted by Anderson's office in 2013 -- all but 261 of which were for amounts under 2 ounces -- Ogg at a press conference outside the Harris County courthouse Wednesday questioned why the DA's office is prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases at five times the rate of burglary cases.
Ogg's new(ish) talking point comes as the DA candidates are locked in a dead heat less than two weeks before election. On Wednesday, the Houston Police Officer's Union held a press conference with Anderson, announcing their endorsement, which comes on the heels of a scathing radio ad claiming Ogg, while in her position leading Crime Stoppers years ago, sent the identity of a juvenile sexual assault victim to a TV station. Ogg called the ad misleading and "offensive," saying that a victim's name was inadvertently included in a draft script for a TV program called "Predator Check"; the error was caught before the program ever went live, and the victim's name wasn't aired.
Ogg Wednesday focused on the number of marijuana prosecutions compared to burglary cases brought by Anderson in 2013. And while the numbers Ogg cites might at first glance look impressively bad for Anderson, there's a bit more to this equation. The DA's office may be prosecuting upward of 10,000 marijuana cases, but they can only really prosecute what cops send them.
Same thing goes for those pesky burglary cases, too. They may only be a fraction of the weed cases Anderson's office sees, but the DA can only prosecute what she's given. And the percentage of burglary cases that ever make enough investigative headway to trigger an arrest and hit the DA's desk is pretty dismal across the board.
In 2013, the same year that Ogg cites those 10,903 marijuana cases, there were 23,749 burglaries reported by the Houston Police Department, but only 1,800 of those cases resulted in an arrest. That amounts to about 7.5 percent of the burglary reports being cleared by arrest -- which has very little to do with the DA's office.
At least not directly. Ogg claims her new cite-and-summons policy for misdemeanor marijuana offenders would help reprioritize law enforcement resources across the board -- like trickle-down criminal justice reform -- and help put more emphasis on serious crimes system-wide.
But Ogg's new stump speech isn't so nuanced. She is saying the current DA is prosecuting an abundance of marijuana cases instead of tackling burglary cases. It's one thing to suggest that the criminal justice system writ-large focuses too much manpower on non-violent misdemeanor drug cases, resulting in less police time and resources to tackle burglaries. It's an entirely different thing to suggest that a new DA can on a dime fundamentally shift the way law enforcement agencies police a city.
The reality is this: a massive amount of misdemeanor marijuana cases are being prosecuted by the DA's office, but that has little to do with the lack of burglary prosecutions. In order for more burglary cases to make their way into court, cops have to solve more of them and make arrests.
Ultimately, Ogg may be on to something. There is plenty of data to support programs like GRACE -- Ogg's marijuana accountability program -- and most of it points to marijuana prosecutions being a waste of resources. Still, it's a bit of a stretch to say that the paltry number of burglary prosecutions in Harris County is a direct result of the high amount of marijuana cases the DA's office has filed.
In this case, it's comparing apples and (stolen) oranges.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.