13 Investigates how Houston police lowered crime in 'crazy' neighborhood

Friday, October 27, 2023
Houston police say it takes 'patience' to drive down crime
13 Investigates spoke with HPD commanders in neighborhoods where crime is up and down to see how they're tackling the issue across the city.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When Casey Stewart moved into his southeast Houston apartment complex two years ago, he said there were constant memorials for people killed in his neighborhood.

"It was crazy," Stewart said. "Robbery is really bad around here."

Stewart lives in the 10900 block of Gulf Freeway, which 13 Investigates identified as Houston's most crime-ridden block in 2021.

Our investigation found 300 alleged offenses in that block alone during the first eight months of 2021.

Now, our 13 Investigates analysis of Houston Police Department crime data shows there were just 253 alleged offenses during the same time period this year.

HPD attributes the success in lowering crime in that neighborhood to additional patrols and resources in that community.

"They had the laws pass by every now and then, and they'll post up in the office area right here at the corner on the street," Stewart said. "It's been pretty good."

SEE ALSO: Crime reported every 7 hours in this Houston neighborhood

HPD's Clear Lake Division Commander Claudia Cruz, who oversees the Gulf Freeway neighborhood, said it's important for residents to feel secure with where they live.

After identifying that neighborhood as a crime hotspot, she said her goal was to increase police presence and do proactive work, including more community engagement.

Cruz said it's important for officers to have good rapport with the community because "driving down crime is a shared responsibility."

"That's why this whole thing has been successful, is because everybody has a part to play, and if they hold themselves accountable to making sure that they're doing their part, we can drive down the numbers in that area," she said.

Despite improvements in that southeast Houston neighborhood, crime in more than half of Houston zip codes is up compared to five years ago.

INTERACTIVE: Want to know more about crime in your zip code over the last five years? Explore the map below. Red indicates zip codes where crime is up. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

Citywide, crime is down about 2% this year, with HPD responding to 168,651 offenses from January through August this year compared to 171,959 offenses during the same period last year.

But, the number of offenses citywide is up 16% when comparing it to the year before the pandemic wave of crimes began. There were 144,766 offenses during the first eight months of 2019 compared to the 168,651 this year.

One of the zip codes 13 Investigates identified as having the most crimes this year is 77036, including parts of Chinatown and Sharpstown.

"Chinatown's really dynamic. It's a mix of a lot of residential property apartments, and of course, there's a really booming retail sector," Commander Zachary Becker, who oversees part of that area, said. "Like any part of the city, it runs the gamut. There's a lot of concern about property crime."

While crimes like simple assault, vandalism, robbery, and drugs are down in that zip code, overall calls for crime in that area are up 19%.

Shoplifting is up 90%, purchasing prostitution is up 83%, and theft from motor vehicles is up 23% in 77036.

"As far as increase in calls for service, I will tell you my message to folks is, 'I want you to call. I want you to call 911. I want you to call our non-emergency number when there's a problem because we want that information,'" Becker said. "Yes, it may look like there's more reporting of certain issues, but I think over time, what we're going to see is that reporting leads to greater community involvement. It leads to better responses. It leads to better outcomes."

Kenneth Li, who manages several buildings in Chinatown, said the crime he hears about the most is jugging, which happens when a suspect follows a victim out of a bank or high-end store and later robs them.

Li said they also get a lot of burglary of motor vehicle complaints. He worked to make sure there were signs posted throughout Chinatown warning shoppers to "Hide your things. Lock your car. Take your keys."

"We have a quite a few visitors from out of town, either to shop here, and sometimes when they come from other stores, like the Galleria or somewhere, sometimes they leave their valuable item in the car, and they're not cultured that in every major city right now, you have to watch that," Li said.

Becker said he's ramped up traffic enforcement in his division and used overtime dollars to focus on hotspot enforcement.

He said the department also uses specialized crime suppression units that focus on tackling specific crimes, such as narcotics, in specific neighborhoods.

He said HPD's work is fluid because if the crime suppression team helps drive down crime in one neighborhood, they still want to ensure they're keeping an eye on other neighborhoods so crime doesn't increase.

"We're not letting up on the criminals by just focusing on one spot," Becker said. "We're linking up our resources across the city. We're going after these criminals where they are. We're definitely bringing the fight to them and not just sitting back on our heels and waiting for them to come to us."

One thing Becker said would help is more officers. HPD currently has 5,132 officers.

"I will take two or three times more. I want everybody who has ever thought about considering a career in law enforcement to check out HPDcareer.com. It's a great job. No, we don't have enough people. We have about the same number of police officers on the force today as we did when I started," Becker said. "The city has grown a lot. We have struggled to keep up. We leverage a lot of technology. We leverage a lot of cooperation from the community, but we are always looking for people who want to step up to the challenge, put on the badge, and help us out."

In the Clear Lake area, Cruz said one of the reasons her officers have successfully driven crime down is that she hasn't been shy to ask for help.

She said that includes partnering with neighboring HPD divisions to increase police presence and other law enforcement agencies, such as Harris County Precinct One, which, she said, focuses on providing resources and housing assistance for homeless individuals.

But, Cruz said, the biggest success came with working with the mayor's apartment task force that targeted two complexes for deficiencies, including poor lighting.

"It drives out the criminal element. It makes it less conducive for crime. When you fix the lighting in the area, it's not as dark, so they can't commit their crimes that they want to. You're improving quality of life, so criminals aren't going to want to hang out in that area," she said. "The biggest takeaway is this requires a lot of patience, so driving down crime is not going to happen overnight, so you have to be very patient, and you have to work with other people. You have to be patient and willing to accept the assistance and ask for it when you need it."

SEE ALSO: Tenants ask for answers amid 'mass evictions' at 2 southeast Houston properties

Cameron Jackson, who grew up in Houston's most crime-ridden block two years ago, said as a child his mom didn't let him play outside after a certain hour for fear of his safety.

Although the 19-year-old said he still doesn't want his nieces and nephews running around the neighborhood, he does feel safer when he has to make a run to the area corner store because there are more police parked outside and patrolling.

"The police definitely have this area on lockdown," Jackson said. "Me personally, I feel like there's no way anybody could come out here and do anything crazy without them laws just riding it through. Like there's no way."

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