Despite improvements in the Houston Police Department, Chief Harold Hurtt now confronts a surge in murders partially attributed to the influx of Katrina refugees last summer and a shortage of officers that will take years to remedy, says the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. There have been 201 murders as of last week, well above the 161 by the same date last year. Hurtt blames “a lack of long-term planning and commitment” that failed to anticipate the loss of large numbers of veteran officers.
A troubling number of juvenile and gang-related killings over the early summer, including a fatal gang brawl at a park, have stimulated calls from City Council members and educators for more after-school and summer programs to provide young people positive, structured activities to counter the lure of gangs and drugs. Police Homicide Captain Dale Brown told the Chronicle editorial board that a gang task force and targeted enforcement in high crime areas cannot compensate for insufficient staffing. “While we can put together these directed strategies, and we can have an impact on geographic areas, we have to have the presence of uniformed officers day in and day out to sustain the gains that we achieve.” The Chronicle conludes that “Hurtt should be applauded for making the best of a bad situation. However, Houston needs to swiftly expand the police force and come up with a way to pay for it. The chief’s and the mayor’s divergent views of the urgency of increasing the number of HPD officers is not reassuring.”