13 Investigates: How residents in this North Harris County neighborhood became numb to crime

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- During a trip to north Harris County last month, 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg asked residents if they've experienced crime.

Despite violent and deadly crimes in the half-mile area around 900 Cypress Station Drive, some residents we spoke with still thought crime in the neighborhood wasn't that bad.

"There's crime everywhere," residents told us.

But our 13 Investigates analysis of more than 210,000 incidents reported to the Harris County Sheriff's Office since 2019 found the Cypress Station area has the most crime in the county. This doesn't include crimes reported to the Houston Police Department, which we analyzed last year, or other law enforcement agencies that serve the county.

When Oberg told one Cypress Station area resident, who didn't think crime was bad, about our findings, he chimed in saying: "Oh yeah. We've had three or four."

"Three or four what?" Oberg asked.

Murders.

It seemed that some neighbors who live in the area were immune or numb to the county-leading level of crime.

On average, one crime is reported every seven hours in the Cypress Station neighborhood. The sound and sights of gunshots followed by red and blue flashing sirens, or fleeing suspects, is normal for residents in that community.

But, should it be?



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Raickiel Allen can't see outside the front windows of her apartment. She prefers it that way.

Last year, her Cypress Station area apartment was broken into. She said at least six neighbors had break-ins too in the last several months.

She covered her windows with brown and white cardboard boxes, hoping it would trick would-be criminals into thinking the apartment is vacant. She also doesn't want her or her children seeing what's going on outside.

"I've had a person come to my door and they actually hid on that sidewalk, knocking on my door while trying to look out my blind," Allen said. "(I'm) thinking I'm going to get shot here. I would rather not even know who you are because if I see your face, there's no telling what may happen."

The constant fear of crime is something Allen and her children, 6 months, 2, 5 and 16 years old, live with on a daily basis.

Allen said she didn't realize how bad crime was when she moved to the area in April 2019.

"I'm in disbelief," Allen said. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into."

Across the county, Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to 83,455 incidents in 2020, up 8.5% compared to 2019. This year, cases are up 4%, with deputies responding to an average of 6,973 incidents each month.

Although crime is up in the county, our investigation found HCSO responded to the most crime in the block where the jail is located - everything from harassment of a public servant and criminal mischief, to sexual assault and terroristic threat.

The nearby 700 block of North San Jacinto Street, where the Harris County Joint Processing Center is located, had the second most crimes reported since 2019.

The worst neighborhood was in the half-mile radius around 900 Cypress Station Drive. In that hotspot, crimes reported include 247 domestic assaults, 48 aggravated assaults, 167 burglaries and 33 more armed robberies.

We shared our analysis with the sheriff's office, which agrees it is one of the worst hotspots in the county.

HCSO Major Tommy Diaz supervises the agency's crime analysis and intelligence division, which was established earlier this year.

He said their goal is to understand where crime is happening the most and get to the root cause to help identify solutions that will reduce violent crime.

"We knew anecdotally that the Cypress Station area was high crime," Diaz said. "Now, we're putting numbers to that and trying to understand what it is that we're doing to impact that area in a positive way."

Diaz said HSCO is still looking at the data and working with outside public health and academic researchers to understand why crime is bad in that one community and other hotspots around the county.

"That's the big question mark, what is driving the crime here? And it's our responsibility to understand it," Diaz said. "I can't tell you it's because of X, Y and Z. There's so many factors that go into why a crime occurs, why a certain area has high crime, but I can tell you this, that the sheriff's office is looking at multiple avenues in which to evaluate it. So maybe I don't have the answer, but I owe it to, and we owe it to the community members to find out what's going on here."

'People deserve an opportunity to be safe'

Delante Graves can tell the difference between gunshots versus fireworks or other loud popping noises in the middle of the night.

"It's a different sound," Graves said.

He's lived in the Cypress Station area for years and says crime has increased in recent years.



"I wish that it would be a regular neighborhood where you can just take your kids out, have fun," he said. "If you're chilling or, you know, taking your time conversing in the driveway that you wouldn't have to worry about anything. Just a regular neighborhood."

Whenever Graves takes his daughter on bike rides at a nearby park, there's always one thing on his mind: making sure they get home safely.

"Around the time when they're shooting and stuff, we will just be getting back from riding bikes and stuff like that. Parks close right at the time when it starts to get dark," he said.

This year alone, there have been at least three murders in the 900 block of Cypress Station, in addition to a 3-year-old girl who was struck in the head by a stray bullet while sitting in her car seat.

After that incident, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said "somebody just sprayed a lot of bullets toward" an adult male, who died in the shooting on April 26.

"It appears the little girl was a totally innocent bystander," he said.

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Five months later, on Sept. 22, two men were found dead of gunshot wounds on that same block. Less than 24 hours after that double homicide, a 27-year-old mother of five was killed in an alleged domestic shooting involving her ex-boyfriend.

Despite these violent and deadly crimes, some of the Cypress Station residents we spoke with said crime isn't that bad because to them, it is normal.

Diaz said the sheriff's office has two deputies assigned to the Cypress Station area through its Community Problem Oriented Policing program, an initiative aimed at understanding community and crime issues from residents' perspective and how violent crime impacts them daily.

They've also recently increased patrol in that neighborhood, during the hours of the day when crime is more likely, since studies show a police presence helps drive crime down, Diaz said.

"I can't understand all the time what it feels like to lay your head in an area that has a lot of crime or trying to go to the grocery store and have a fear of maybe a robbery or a purse snatching," Diaz said. "People deserve an opportunity to be safe. They deserve an opportunity for growth. They deserve an opportunity to go to and from school safely. We owe it, as a society, to our community, to be able to provide that."

Despite the frequency of gunshots in his neighborhood, Graves said it still wakes him up in the middle of the night.

"They keep me up for a while. I just want to make sure that everything's all right or no one is trying to break in or nothing's right outside my house," he said.

'My children aren't safe here'

Just a few weeks ago, Allen said there was a shooting on her street. Police blocked it off and started searching the area, including near her truck.

"I didn't even bother to go ask because when you start to ask questions ... most people start to say, 'Well, you're a snitch or you're telling things,'" Allen said. "It makes it hard to get out of this situation because you don't know who to trust. You don't know who trusts you."

Allen said she's been vocal with her neighborhood about the high crime, but many are hesitant to speak up themselves, which is why she's glad in recent months that she's noticed more deputies patrolling the Cypress Station area.

Diaz said part of their targeted policing includes deploying deputies to areas where there's a high number of residents on parole or with active warrants. He said although there are street gangs in smaller neighborhoods, organized crime is not what's driving crime in the county.

He said their data shows while alleged criminals are awaiting trial, many are back on the street reoffending, leaving behind more victims.

"Understanding what people feel is such a complex and nuanced thing. I can tell you from my perspective that it takes a while to get back to normal and it takes a while after being victimized, whether it's violent crime or property crime," Diaz said. "If it's a property crime, maybe you feel frustrated, maybe something was stolen from you. Maybe you don't make a lot of money and now you're trying to replace something that you need for your job and so there's maybe some desperation there. If you're the victim of a violent crime, I don't know if we can ever make somebody feel whole again."

Diaz said preliminary data on crime initiatives show, since April, there has been a reduction in aggravated assaults and robberies, but he couldn't say when residents would start seeing substantial differences.

"I would love to say, 'Hey, in a year we're going to have it driven down for you,' but I think like anything else, if we can get little wins and try to just get to that point where there's less crime, I think that's the goal," Diaz said.

While Allen waits for the community to become safer, she said she'll continue trying to find better housing for her and her children and a place free from constant worrying that someone might break-in.

"My children aren't safe here. No one's children are safe here," Allen said. "I want to be able to just tell them that at the end of the day, mommy tried her best, even if we don't come out of this situation."

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