The FBI's report tracks crime from January through June of this year. Violent crime in Houston, which includes murder and rape, rose 5.9 percent compared to the same period in 2005. Compare that to a 4.5 percent increase in Atlanta, and decreases of as much as three percent in Los Angeles and New York. Houston Police Department Spokesman Capt. Dwayne Ready says the FBI's numbers are not complete and new numbers reflecting crime through November of this year show the rate trending back downward.
"I think Houstonians need to know that there's been a change in the picture as it's portrayed by the FBI -- that crime is not as bad as it's being portrayed by the FBI, that it's dated material, that the programs that have been implemented here locally through our overtime initiatives they're working, that the city is commited to restaffing the police department to try to reach the national average for the ratio of police officers to citizens and that generally Houston is headed in the right direction."
It might not be as bad as the preliminary report indicates, but it's not good either. There was a documented spike in crime. There were 158 homicides in the first half of 2005, but 202 murders in the first half of this year. Rice University Professor Dr. Stephen Klineberg says his annual sociological survey shows Houstonians perceive crime as a real threat to the region.
"We asked people 'what's the biggest problem facing people in the Houston area?' and there was a jump from 13 percent to 31 percent saying crime is the biggest problem in Houston from 2005 to February of 2006. So people have been aware of crime increasing in the city, of an overburdened police force, it's tied in, in part, to the concerns about the Katrina evacuees that have come. And so the fear of crime is back both in this city and in most major cities across America."
The FBI report shows, overall, violent crime increased nationwide by 3.7 percent. Crimes like robberies were up by almost ten percent. Klineberg says because the report only covers a six-month period, there's no way to tell right now if crime will continue to rise or if local measures are abating crime. He says Houstonians should keep a few things in mind when assessing crime rates.
"I think a measure of concern, of support for improvements in public safety across the board, but not a sense of alarm and certainly not a fear of each other."
HPD's Capt. Ready says the FBI report could be the basis for some legislative attention to Houston's crime rate, including leverage to receive state and federal grants to address the problem. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.