Houston-area law enforcement getting 'first-of-its-kind' to combat rise in crime

Mycah Hatfield Image
Friday, September 30, 2022
DOJ stepping in to help Houston-area law enforcement combat crime
The Department of Justice is stepping in to help Houston and Harris County authorities combat crime with a "first-of-its-kind" program.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Federal and Houston-area law enforcement lined up at Jack Yates High School to announce a collaboration to fight violent crime in the area.

The Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas, Houston police, Harris County Sheriff's Office, FBI, ATF, and the Office of Justice Programs were all represented.

Specifically, the agencies plan to target gangs and organized crime. Houston police Chief Troy Finner said violent crime involving gangs has increased lately.

"Some of these shooters are in their teens, and many are being recruited to enter gangs," Fred Milanowski, ATF special agent in charge, said. "We want to make sure we are dismantling the entire network."

The program is being called the "first-of-its-kind."

Federal leaders said Houston was chosen because of the daily battle with violent crime, as well as the strong partnerships that already exist between local and federal law enforcement.

James Smith, a special agent in charge of the Houston division of the FBI, called gangs the "modern-day mafia."

"Our goal is not just to put people in handcuffs for a day or two, but to build cases and cut off this modern-day mafia at its knees," Smith said.

Five seasoned federal trial prosecutors are being brought in to build RICO cases against gangs wreaking havoc on the community.

"We will develop strong cases where the defendants who possess the greatest danger to threats to the community will be arrested, will not be released on bond, and will receive significant prison sentences," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Jennifer Lowrey said.

Over the last few years, millions of dollars have been given to the city and county to fight violent crime, through initiatives like One Safe Houston and Harris County Safe. Leaders assured that this program is not the same. Instead, they said it will amplify the work already being done.

"It's about trying to connect the dots that connect the dots," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. "Sometimes we do it very well in our individual agencies, but we want to make sure we aren't missing anything."

One of the tools they plan to use is the NIBIN system. It is a database that holds information about guns and ballistics from previous crimes. Fifty area agencies contribute to the system. It allows law enforcement to determine if the same gun is used in multiple crimes.

Milanowski said their ability to connect the dots has improved significantly over the last few years.

"In the past year, over 800 suspects were arrested with links to shootings that came from NIBIN leads," Milanowski said.

Already in the city of Houston, a gun buyback event has taken place and another is scheduled. Finner defended the programs when asked how they would affect tracing guns.

"A gun that's in somebody's house or just on the street somewhere, when they bring it into us, NIBIN we run it and can trace back. But if you don't have that gun, you don't have anything," Finner said. "So we use that as an opportunity. But I'm going to leave it at that and we will talk about it later."

The Department of Justice also announced on Thursday that $2 million from a grant is being given to Houston and Harris County. It is going to fund community programs that aim to support victims, crime prevention and intervention, as well as local police. Some of the money has already been awarded.

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