Houston Matters

Houston’s Murder Rate Rises In 2018

The uptick in homicides comes as the Houston Police Department faces potential cuts to its force.

HPD chief Art Acevedo works at his office in the department's headquarters, located in downtown Houston.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner have both previously spoken out about needing more officers in the city.

Despite a nationwide trend of declining murder rates in big cities, Houston is expected to see an uptick in total murders in 2018, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In 2017, the total number of murders in Houston was 269. Based on current data, the Brennan Center for Justice predicts this number will increase by 24.7% to 335 murders in 2018, though the number could vary slightly depending on the data that comes in.

"We produce these reports with the most recent data we’re able to obtain at the time," Ames Grawert told Houston Matters. He said the Houston estimate is based on data provided through the third quarter of the year, and that it's likely the murder rate will vary slightly based on year-end data.

"[The murder rate] probably won't be down, I’d expect it to still be up somewhat, but it could be less of an increase than what we’re expecting,” he said.

Grawert said it's still too early to tell what the increase means, especially because Houston did have a decrease in homicides last year.

"This could in the end turn out to be year-to-year variation, or it could be something more significant. We’re going to wait and see," he said. "But even if our estimate holds, which has the Houston murder rate increasing by over 20%, the city would be roughly on par with where it was in 2015. So it's tough to say whether this is a true outlier and the city is becoming more dangerous or whether it's a reversion to previous trends in the city."

The annual report looks at murder rates in the 30 largest cities.

"This group of cities is around 40 million people, so it’s a little over one-tenth of the nation’s population, and it actually has been pretty accurate at diagnosing the direction of yearly trends for the country as a whole," Grawert said. "Since we have homicide rates declining significantly in this group of cities, I'd expect the same to be true for the country when we get final data next year."

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are all estimated to have their murder rates decline in 2018. Among other Texas cities, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth are all expected to have declining murder rates, while the murder rate is expected to go up in Austin and El Paso.

Grawert says pinpointing the factors that cause year-to-year variations can be difficult, but that a 2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that increased police hiring was one of the key factors contributing to a nationwide decrease in crime rates.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner have both previously spoken out about needing more officers in Houston, though Acevedo has said he will have to cut up to 800 positions if Proposition B is upheld.

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