Houston leaders hope $44 million program will solve alarming rise in crime

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and police Chief Troy Finner, believe the new $44 million program "One Safe Houston" is the answer to solving the alarming rise in crime in the city.

"Since the beginning of the year, our city has felt anything but safe," Mayor Turner said.

But, this is not the first time city leaders have sounded the alarm on crime.

"I'm not going to let thugs tear down our city," Finner said during a press conference in 2021, after an off-duty New Orleans officer was killed while having dinner in the Galleria area.

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While Finner said the overall crime rate has dropped, that does not include homicides. In 2021, the Houston Police Department reported 473 homicides, which is an 18% increase from 2020. In 2022, there have already been 40 homicides, according to police.

The new program will allocate $5.7 million towards putting more boots on the ground and focusing on hot spots where violence is occurring. There will be 125 officers working overtime every day.

The reason why officers will be working overtime is because the department simply does not have enough officers. Though, Turner said a cadet class is graduating on March 3 and the program will add another five cadet classes.

According to HPD's monthly operations, in 2016, the same year Turner came into office, there were 5,166 officers. In 2021, as the homicide rate continued to grow, the number of officers stayed roughly the same at 5,168.

ABC13 asked Turner for an explanation during his press conference, and he contributed it to officers retiring as each year goes by.

"When I came into office in January of 2016, do you know how many officers were eligible to retire? 1,900 out of 5,100 were eligible to retire six years ago. Many of those officers are retiring," Turner said.

ABC13 Investigates recently revealed how this is impacting response times. In almost every category, it's taking officers longer to respond to calls.

However, both the chief and mayor stressed that no amount of money, technology, or added officers, will reduce crime if the criminal court backlog continues.

"Harris County has the greatest number of backlog court cases than any other city and probably any other in the country, with more than 100,000 cases," Turner said. "It's imperative all criminal justice stakeholders design a plan to clear the court backlog, especially offenders charged with violent crimes and pose the greatest risk of crime in our community."

The Houston Forensic Science Center will receive $1.5 million to help the turnaround time for providing evidence for these cases to be handled.

The city will work with the district attorney's office to come up with the 200 most violent offenders awaiting trial to present to the judges and the courts. Finner said it's not to say they don't deserve a fair trial, but to get those accused of violent crimes, inside the courtroom sooner.

"Ultimately, what is needed is more courts, more judges, and more staffing," Turner said. "But the backlog in Harris County is too much and we will always be running against the grain."

Turner also said too many bail bond companies are requiring substantially less than the customary 10% required to post bond. The city legal department has been instructed by the mayor to draft an ordinance for the Houston City Council, requiring bail bond companies to charge a premium, which is equal to at least 10% of the amount of the bail bond set by the court.

Turner also called upon the Harris County Bail Bond Board to adopt that standard for the entire county.

"The criminal justice system does not operate effectively or efficiently in the interest of victims when any part of the system is not functioning as designed," Turner said.

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