Law Enforcement

Houston’s effort to curb human trafficking on Bissonnet Track bolstered by road-blocking gates

The Houston Police Department began placing nightly barricades on part of Bissonnet Street in southwest Houston last May. Prostitution and related crime in the area has since diminished significantly, according to Houston City Council member Edward Pollard.

Bissonnet Gate
Houston Police Department
Six gates have been placed on part of Bissonnet Street and other nearby locations in southwest Houston where prostitution has historically been commonplace. The gates block off streets between 10 p.m. at night until 5 a.m. the next day.

For the better part of three decades, a stretch of Bissonnet Street in southwest Houston was known as a hotbed for prostitution, human trafficking and related criminal activity.

Now, the Houston City Council member representing that part of town is trying to change its nickname from the "Bissonnet Track" to the Bissonnet Corridor. Since the Houston Police Department began blocking off the street last May with nightly barricades that limited both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, a police spokesperson said it's become a "whole different area."

"Anyone who used to drive down Bissonnet between U.S. 59 and Beltway 8, you'd see open prostitution walking the street. You'd see open criminal activity," said Edward Pollard, the city council member for District J. "If you drive down the street now, much of that is gone and has been gone for some time. Beyond the stats and beyond the data, all you've got to do is open your eyes or talk to some of the residents and business owners, and they'll tell you it's been a significant change."

Neither Pollard nor HPD spokesperson Shay Awosiyan said they had immediately available data Thursday to illustrate the Bissonnet Track had become safer or less crime-ridden, beyond Pollard saying human trafficking in his district had declined by about 25% since police started placing movable barricades at the street's intersections with Centre Parkway and Plainfield Street between 10 p.m. every night and 5 a.m. the following day. Awosiyan previously said there had been about 300 arrests on that stretch during the first part of 2023, adding Thursday that the number of arrests has "plummeted due to the lack of foot traffic in the area."

The initiative was recently bolstered with the help of $15,000 from Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, which funded six metal gates that have been placed at the aforementioned intersections and other nearby locations. The gates are closed daily at 10 p.m. and opened at 5 a.m., and their presence alleviates the need for police officers to constantly man the area so they can monitor movable barricades.

“When the Houston Police Department (HPD) reached out for support with a bid for the gates, my Harris County Precinct 4 team and I determined we could design, construct and fund fixed, in-ground barricades at a lower cost,” Briones said in a statement. “This helped save taxpayers money on construction costs and an additional $60,000 a month in HPD overtime costs.”

Pollard acknowledged that prostitution and related activities could have moved to other parts of the area or city at large, but said he had not heard about the emergence of any new hotspots. Awoyisan said prostitution has "popped up at other locations," but not to the extent that Bissonnet historically experienced.

Awosiyan said he could not cite specific locations where the activity was occurring, calling it a "case-by-case situation."

"As you can expect, you stop one place, they go to another place," he said.

Pollard said what's happened on Bissonnet during the last several months shows "proof of concept" that HPD's road-blocking initiative, with the buy-in of residents, businesses and other stakeholders, can be effective. A pair of developers are seeking to construct multi-family housing developments in the area, according to Pollard, who said it's been years since that happened.

Perhaps the same kind of measures can be implemented in other blighted parts of the city where prostitution might be or become commonplace, he suggested.

"If we can stop it on the most notorious street in our city, then this concept may be able to be replicated in other areas of the city if it does pop up," Pollard said. "If we can clean up Bissonnet, we can clean up any street."