Houston police chief says support needed to stop 'revolving door' of violent repeat offenders

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Police Chief Troy Finner isn't sleeping much these days.

He's been with the Houston Police Department for more than three decades. Still, as he celebrated his one-year anniversary as head of the nation's fifth largest police force, Finner started Tuesday early, responding to a 4 a.m. crime scene where a man was allegedly carjacked, run over, and killed with his car.

The morning was a reminder of just how big of an around-the-clock task it is to oversee the police force in the city where he grew up.

But, one year into the job, Finner said he's hopeful the city - with the support of the community and local elected leaders - is on the right track toward reducing violent crime.

"We're not going to get out of this hole overnight," Finner said during a sit-down interview with 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "We got a lot of work to do, but with the great men and women in our police department and our great citizens...we got to work together, and we're going to keep moving forward."

Through private conversations, Finner said he's working with key leaders, including judges, to address two things that he believes will create a safer Houston: Clearing the backlog of cases in the Harris County courts system and addressing how violent repeat offenders can get out of jail more easily with the help of bonding companies.
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Houston Police Chief Troy Finner discusses how he hopes officials can work together to address the backlog of criminal cases.



"There's still a lot of work to be done when you have a backlog as we have and violent individuals are coming in and going. (It's a) revolving door, that just won't work and I don't care what you are doing in policing or what the judges are doing, or what district attorney is doing, the county jail was never meant to be a correctional facility," Finner said. "It's a temporary holding facility until you get to trial and I'm all for 'this is America. Everybody needs a fair trial,' but we need to speed them up when it's violent offenders and I'm not backing down."

Finner admits he's busier than he expected since taking over. Violent crime statistics show Houston criminals aren't resting, so the chief can't either.

There's been 116 homicides so far this year, up 10% from this date last year.

"Nobody's satisfied with it, but we're no different than any other major city right now. Most of them are going through the same (thing)," Finner told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "But nobody is experiencing the backlog that Houston, Harris County is. Nobody. Hands down. So we can't just say, 'Well you know that doesn't affect crime.' It does."

We looked at crime at the largest cities in the U.S. and found so far this year, homicide is down 13% in Los Angeles, down 5% in New York and down 5% in Chicago. Homicides are up 13% in Dallas.

Our investigation also found HPD reported 3.8% more offenses this February compared to the same month last year, according to a 13 Investigates' analysis of monthly crime data.

RELATED: 13 Investigates: Crime reported every 7 hours in this Houston neighborhood


We looked at tens of thousands of offenses reported to police over the last year. Our analysis of HPD data found overall offenses reported to the department increased in half of Houston's zip codes this January and February compared to the same two months last year. HPD crime data for March won't be released until later in April.

Finner said the most current data he has shows crime is trending downwards.
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Houston Police Chief Troy Finner says the city is "moving in the right direction."



"Even with everything that we were going through last year, I'm so proud of our citizens and our officers because violent crime was down almost 5%, but that got lost in the noise," he said. "All those numbers are trending in the right direction when it comes to violent crime. I don't like to put a whole lot of unofficial numbers out there. Just give us a few more weeks at the end of the month, then we'll put it out there, but I can tell you, and those numbers are trending in the right direction."

INTERACTIVE: Explore the map below to see if overall incidents reported to HPD is up or down in your zip code. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.


'There has to be consequences'

Finner said it takes more than just his agency to keep the city safe. From bonding companies allowing accused criminals to pay less than the standard 10% of their bond to be released from jail to a growing backlog of cases, Finner said he's constantly working with other agencies on a solution.

"When you look in terms of crime, I knew what we were up against. When you have a backlog like that, you know what you're going to be up against and I'm just hopeful and praying that we get things moving," he said. "They're moving a little bit better, but we've got to be intentional."

A One Safe Houston Crime Reduction Initiative announced in February says HPD will seek the help of the Harris County District Attorney's Office to identify and "prioritize the prosecution of the 200 most violent offenders currently awaiting trial or case disposition."

When Oberg asked Finner how many of those offenders they've identified, Finner said he'd like to release those numbers at a later date. But, for now, he just said they're doing well.

SEE ALSO: 'Breaking point:' 13 Investigates how many repeat offenders are out on bond

Finner said he's committed to getting - and keeping - violent repeat offenders off the streets and he continues to have private conversations with the other government officials who can help make that happen.

"There has to be consequences and when there are consequences right away, people know 'If I commit a violent crime and I get out and I commit another one and I get out,' whatever the reason, we got to fix that," he said. "We got to fix it as a system and however we need to do that, whomever (needs to do that), we need to do it."

The department is also battling a shortage of officers. As of the end of February, Finner's force was down 58 officers. He has 174 cadets in training, but retirements continue to outpace recruits.
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Houston Police Chief Troy Finner talks about the difficulties in recruiting and retaining officers and building community relations.



The crime initiative allows overtime pay for 125 officers a day in areas the department has identified as having the most violent crimes. The cost for the increased patrol is $5.7 million and officers will not only target the neighborhoods with the most crime, but also patrol at the times of day where their analysis finds crime is happening most.

The initiative also says HPD will reduce violent crime by identifying neighborhoods that are hotspots for violent crime, including murder, aggravated assaults, aggravated robberies and areas where violent criminal gangs are operating.

"It's the same goal I've always had - identify those individuals who are terrorizing those neighborhoods, those wanted suspects because a lot of them are right in those neighborhoods and we want to pluck them out with (the) assistance of those citizens in those neighborhoods," Finner said.

Ultimately, Finner said having respect and trust with the communities is an important aspect of patrolling.

And although he's concerned Houstonians might become numb to crime across the city, he's optimistic it'll get better.

"I'm never going to doubt the heart and you know, just the good in the citizens in Houston, but it's a thing that we all have to work together," he said.

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