Overall Crime Down But Murder Up Last Year in Houston

There's mostly good news today about crime in Houston. The city's overall crime rate fell by more than five percent in 2006, including decreases in nearly every category of violent crime except murder. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, city officials are feeling better about those crime numbers than they did a year ago.

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According to numbers submitted to the FBI as part of the Uniform Crime Report, Houston's overall crime rate fell by 5.7 percent in 2006 compared to the previous year, with significant drops in the rate of violent crimes like rapes and aggravated assaults. Non-violent crime, like burglary and theft, dropped by almost six-percent. Despite the good news nearly across the board, the city's murder rate went up by almost five-percent in 2006, something Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says won't be tolerated.

"The increase that we saw last year was totally unacceptable to all of us, not to just the ones of us sitting here, but also to members of our community and they let us know almost on a daily basis that we had to do more and with the assistance that we got on overtime we were able to target some of those areas that we've seen significant increase in violent crime as well as murders."

That targeted enforcement resulted in a murder rate that dropped 24 percent in the last three months of 2006 compared to the first nine months of the year, when Houston's murder rate skyrocked with an average of more than 33 killings a month. Mayor Bill White says the targeted programs worked.

"Violent crime rates went down in seven of eight districts with the highest number of violent crimes, the highest violent crime rates a year ago so the targeting that was done of the emergency resources as well as the overall budget has and is having an affect."

The Uniform Crime Report numbers are based on crimes per 100,000 residents and not on actual crimes. The number of actual violent and non-violent crimes increased in 2006, but so did the city's population, at a faster pace, sending the crime rate lower. City councilwoman Pam Holm says Houston shouldn't be satisfied with the encouraging numbers.

"We cannot promise our citizens a crime-free city but I don't want us to get too content with those numbers and not lose sight of the goal that our goal always should be to have a crime-free city and we'll never rest until we're in that process."

As of Monday, there had been 13 murders in Houston compared to 28 homicides during the same period last year. Hurtt says the city will have to depend on smarter policing in the coming years, with limited resources and an increasing population.

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