Even though crime rates have fallen Houston City Council elections say the opposite, reports the Houston Chronicle. “Houston used to be safer,” says the voiceover in a new radio ad produced for At-Large 5 candidate Tom Nixon, a former police officer. One of his opponents, Zaf Tahir, warns on his Web site about “rising crime and lawlessness throughout the city.” The rate of major crimes Houston has reported each year to the FBI has dropped since the 1990s.
Why does crime remain a major issue? The public believes it is important. Crime eclipsed traffic and the economy when people were asked to name the biggest problem facing the region for the last two years, said the Houston Area Survey by Rice sociology professor Stephen Klineberg. Political observers point to a variety of factors, chief among them the heavy media coverage amid a spike in criminal activity in the first half of 2006, as the police struggled with Katrina-related turf battles, drug and gang activity and homicides. “Crime is hotter than it has been certainly in the last three cycles,” said Allen Blakemore, a political consultant. Some say there is a sense that petty crimes – car burglaries, thefts, graffiti – are increasing, even if police statistics do not always track with public opinion. Burglaries have increased nearly 10 percent recently. Though homicides, particularly the random variety, get more media attention,petty offenses also can fuel concern about the crime issue overall, candidates say.