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Houston Police Say Crime Went Down During Harvey. Is Looting a Myth?

Researchers say that goodwill and altruism are more common in a storm than theft.

Houston Police Chief art Acevedo

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Two months after the storm, there may be cause to rethink what many of us thought we knew about Harvey. Most folks assume that during times of disaster you do see major spikes in crime, but that's actually not what happened in Houston.

Robert Downen, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, has found some surprising numbers that counter a common narrative.

After digging through Houston Police Department data, Downen found that crime actually went down on August 27, the worst day of flooding. "Police wrote only 50 reports for major violent and non-violent crimes," he says. "Which is down from the average 300 written the same day in 2016."

The dip in crime might surprise some of us, but not Houston's Police Chief Art Acevedo, who calls Houston a chronically "under-policed" city.

"[He] credited it to kind of this ‘all-hands-on-deck' approach that his department had," Downen says. "He said it was the first time that Houston really had officers deployed across the city, and they also had a variety of other police officers from other departments who kind of came in to augment where they could not get to in the city."

There's a lot of talk about looting after storms, but it turns out, lower crime rates might actually be the norm.

"The point should be, we shouldn't just assume that these things are inextricably linked, he says. "There's this idea that crime is always going to follow storms, and that is frankly – according to most research – not really true. In fact, what most researchers actually say is that there's this certain sense of goodwill and altruism in communities that actually helps deter violence and other crimes in the wake of these things."

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