For a second consecutive year, Houston recorded a rise in homicides, with the number of killings edging toward its highest point in more than a decade, says the Houston Chronicle. City officials are encouraged the uptick slowed significantly in the last three months and hope the new year marks the start of a downward trend. Houston’s homicide rate rose only incrementaally in 2006 because the city’s population is estimated to have surged by more than 148,000 people, due largely to Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
“It’s not as if Houston’s unique. There are other cities experiencing this,” said criminologist Jim Lynch of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who analyzed the Houston Police Department’s crime statistics. Other criminal offenses in Houston – such as robberies, rapes, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, and stolen cars were down through November. Because of the population surge, Houston is aggressively recruiting and hiring new officers. While criminologists and police officials across the U.S. speculated whether rising crime rates signal a new “crime wave,” Houston Police Capt. Dwayne Ready says the statistics are not high enough to justify such characterization. He suggested they are more likely the result of dwindling federal funds earmarked for local law enforcement agencies. Funding cuts forced cities “to make hard priority decisions,” he said.