HPD chief says burglaries at businesses in Houston are up nearly 20 percent

Thursday, April 2, 2020
HPD chief says he wasn't consulted over inmate releases
With the coronavirus crisis as the backdrop of the releases, Chief Art Acevedo brought up a rise in burglaries over the last two weeks.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said he has not discussed with Harris County leadership an executive order that allows the release of about 1,000 non-violent inmates in jail.

Acevedo made the revelation Tuesday, just a day before Judge Lina Hidalgo signed the order in the midst of the area's COVID-19 crisis.

While Hidalgo described the pandemic behind jail walls as a "ticking time bomb," Acevedo, whose police department is the largest user of the county jail, offered an eye-raising statistic: burglaries of businesses have increased by 18.9 percent over the last two weeks when the Houston area was under a "Stay Home" order.

"Let's hope people who burglarize vehicles, residences and buildings aren't released in large numbers," Acevedo stated.

The chief added, "While I can't speak to a plan I have not seen or been consulted on, my position on release is well documented on my Twitter feed and in previous media interviews."

Hidalgo vowed that there would be a thorough review of the inmates up for release, adding those who would make out are not necessarily absolved of their charges. In addition, Hidalgo said inmates currently jailed for non-violent offenses would not be eligible if they have a violent criminal history.

"Public health experts have made clear it is a dangerous situation," Hidalgo said casting the decision as a public health one, "the cramped conditions there make it impossible to enforce social distancing."

Trying to stay ahead of critics, Hidalgo said there is "no room for politics" in this matter.

The judge and county officials aimed to complete the releases within 96 hours, or four days.

The judge and her attorneys say anyone under domestic violence protective orders, felony DWI suspects and accused home and business burglars would not be eligible for release.

The proposed order steers clear of an executive order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, which banned the release of any violent criminals. The proposed Harris County plan doesn't include them.

Once a list of inmates is created, the District Attorney, District Court Judges, and pre-trial services will have eight hours to review the list and raise objections. The county says once that is complete, it aims to release up to 250 inmates per day.

Adding to the complexity of a plan, a group of lawyers representing thousands of inmates at the jail has filed court documents asking a federal judge to release even more inmates to avoid a "public health catastrophe."

In a phone hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Lea Rosenthal said she would give the county until Friday to show progress towards releasing inmates before taking any further action.

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