Houston’s homicide total is up by nearly a quarter from last year. The Houston Chronicle quotes officers as saying they are seeing more stranger-on-stranger crime, a resurgence of gang activity, and more violence around apartment complexes, especially those swelled with an influx of Katrina evacuees. Although at least eight homicides involved hurricane evacuees, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said that it was incorrect to assume that “the reason that crime is up in the last quarter of this year is evacuees from Louisiana. A lot of this is contributed to homegrown citizens.” To date, 324 homicides have been reported this year, compared with 263 in the same period in 2004. Most of the spike has come since mid-November, when 14 homicides were reported during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Police and city officials, who said they already had been aware of an increase in crime since earlier this year, then launched a series of initiatives intended to increase police presence in high-crime areas. Under pressure from city officials concerned about police manpower, Hurtt instituted a $4 million overtime program designed to free up officers for patrol duty. Last week, the chief announced an initiative to “dramatically” increase patrols in five of the most crime-ridden local apartment complexes. Though violent crime is up 2.3 percent through November of this year compared with the same period last year, HPD officials said overall crime is down 2.2 percent. Hurtt has seen a “tremendous change” in how killers and victims are acquainted. Most killings formerly involved friends or family members, but that is no longer the case – and it’s making murders harder to solve, he said. Regarding the Katrina evacuees, one homicide investigator said that any sudden increase in population is typically accompanied by a rise in crime.