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Houston to spend $4.1 million in police overtime to try to drive down rising crime

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 10/19/2020 By St. John Barned-Smith, Staff writer
a man wearing a suit and tie: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a press conference to announce the recommendations of the Mayor's Task Force on Policing Reform on Wednesday, Sept. 30 2020, at city hall in Houston. © Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a press conference to announce the recommendations of the Mayor's Task Force on Policing Reform on Wednesday, Sept. 30 2020, at city hall in Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday he will spend $4.1 million to boost patrols in six regions in Houston in an attempt to rein in rising violent crime.

“Major cities across the nation are experiencing an increase in homicides, shootings and other crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “There is no denying the virus has contributed to anxiety and stress as people cope with job losses, feelings of isolation, illness or death of loved ones, children learning at home virtually and fear of the unknown.”

Violent crime has risen about 11 percent, Turner said. There have been 302 murders so far this year, an increase of 41 percent over the same period last year, according to Houston police data.

Chief Art Acevedo said he would use the money — taken from the city’s CARES Act funds — to pay overtime to add patrols to hot spots in six districts around the city: Westside, South Gessner, the North Belt, South East, Midwest and South Central.

“We want to do everything we can over the next 2.5 months to dampen that crime increase that we are seeing,” he said.

The funding would pay for 110 officers to patrol those areas, Acevedo said, adding that the department would shift funds elsewhere if officials see crime patterns shift.

“That does not mean were not going to be continuing to aggressively combat violent crime across the city,” he said. “This will be a focus, but violent criminals are mobile.”

Councilmember Letitia Plummer said that in absence of financial help to address underlying conditions, the funding is welcome. “We know that in times of widespread hardship, crime increases,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the federal government’s inadequate fiscal response to the economic crisis caused by the virus is leaving municipal governments with few policy tools to combat the secondary effects of the pandemic. A one time, $1,200 check from six months ago clearly hasn’t staved off the economic anxiety many are experiencing. Using $4 million in Cares Act funds isn’t ideal, but what choice does the city have when Washington isn’t helping?”

Alan M. De Leon of MOVE Texas said the money could have been better spent. “There are 34 eviction hearings in Harris County today, over 300 total last week,” he said. “$4.1 million could literally pay the rent for all of these people. Mayor Turner increases policing funding while choosing to stall on urgent police reforms and refuses to provide housing relief to local residents in the form of a Grace Period Ordinance. Funding police rather than protecting stable housing reflects a narrow understanding of public safety which has become an unfortunate norm in this city…. This move is counterproductive to the goal of addressing the root causes of crime.”

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