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Houston announces $44 million plan to tackle violent crime

February 2, 2022 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) — More than $44 million is being allocated by officials to tackle rising violent crime in Houston, particularly an ongoing surge of homicides that the mayor said Wednesday has made residents feel like they’re living in a “city under siege.”

“Violent crime is a public health crisis, made worse by many factors, including the pandemic and too many guns on our streets,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a news conference.

The new initiative includes $5.7 million to pay for overtime for 125 officers, $1 million for a gun buyback program, $1 million for a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals get job training, housing and other needs, $2.5 million for a program to deploy outreach workers and violence interrupters to mitigate conflicts in neighborhoods and $3 million to help reduce domestic violence.

Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, is not alone in dealing with a jump in violent crime during the pandemic. Homicides in the U.S. in 2020 increased nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump since the FBI began keeping records. Gun violence already on the rise during the pandemic is spiking anew, and beleaguered cities, including New York and Los Angeles, are struggling with how to manage it.

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While overall crime in Houston dropped by 3.4% in 2021, homicides increased by more than 18% last year to 479. In comparison, Los Angeles, which is larger than Houston, had 397 homicides last year.

In 2020, homicides in Houston increased by 44%. So far this year there have been 48 homicides in Houston, a 30% increase compared to the same time last year.

“Since the beginning of the year, our city has felt anything but safe and at times we have felt like a city under siege because of a violent crime wave that is sweeping across the country,” Turner said.

Last month, Houston police dealt with 11 homicides in one weekend and “we’re still trying to recover from that,” said Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.

The police chief said it was going to take an effort by the entire community — residents, businesses, civic leaders — to work together and bring down the violent crime in Houston.

“We cannot do it alone,” Finner said.

Turner said the city’s efforts to reduce violent crime will just be “standing still” if the backlog of court cases in Harris County, where Houston is located, is not substantially reduced. The backlog got as a high as 100,000 cases last year and county officials have said they have been working to reduce it.

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The city’s new initiative comes after a deadly and dangerous week for local law enforcement, including the fatal shooting of a Houston-area deputy and a car chase that ended with three Houston police officers being wounded in a shootout.

Turner said the city’s plan is a holistic approach that acknowledges the need for more officers on the ground as well as programs that deal with the root causes of crime.

Earlier Wednesday, leaders in Harris County touted a $50 million program that they say is also part of a holistic approach to combating violent crime that also includes increasing law enforcement funding. The county program, approved last year, is focused on reducing and preventing crime in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods by tearing down abandoned structures and improving street lighting and other infrastructure.

On Wednesday, workers tore down a two-story apartment building that had been abandoned since August 2020 and where deputies have been dispatched to multiple times to deal with various violent crimes, said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

“We’re never going to arrest our way out of crime. It’s something we’re just going to have to tackle from different areas and this is an example of that today,” Gonzalez said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70