Recent reporting highlights criticism against Houston Crime Stoppers

Daniela Hurtado Image
Monday, April 25, 2022
Recent reporting highlights criticism against Houston Crime Stoppers
"They (Crime Stoppers) disputed any contention that this had any sort of partisan motive," said the Houston Chronicle's public safety reporter, who worked on the story.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Criticism against Crime Stoppers in Houston has made it to the front page of the nation's largest newspaper.

The New York Times and the Houston Chronicle are both reporting on significant criticisms about the organization.

Their reporting includes claims the organization's mission has changed to a focus on cases of people out on bond because of a drop in funding from judge-ordered financial probation requirements.

ABC13 tried to get the CEO at Crime Stoppers to interview on Friday about the matter.

We were told the organization was drafting a statement response and would do interviews when that came out.

We did not get an interview from CEO Rania Mankarious, but the nonprofit did release a statement later in the weekend.

"On Thursday, April 21, 2022, Crime Stoppers of Houston (CSoH) CEO welcomed Senator John Cornyn (R) and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D) to the Dave Ward Crime Stoppers of Houston building to address bipartisan efforts that seek to prevent and respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking against women and hear more of these efforts to protect our citizens. But during that meeting, CSoH was bombarded by multiple coordinated stories rooted in partisan noise," the statement began.

There are two separate articles from different organizations on Crime Stoppers detailing data, financial records, and criticisms.

"One of the things in the course of my reporting and looking at this was this allegation that some have raised that it was financially driven," said St. John Barned-Smith, the Houston Chronicle's public safety reporter.

Barned-Smith details in his months-long research report that funding to Crime Stoppers from a routine $50 judge-ordered probation condition decreased dramatically.

The Chronicle found in 2017, Crime Stoppers received $630,000 from the initiative. In 2020, they received $85,000 in funding.

"Some of the judges I talked to said that they made the decision to direct that money to smaller women's shelters. Places that they felt were not as well-known as Crime Stoppers," said Barned-Smith.

As bond conversations have been a hot button issue in our area, many judges, particularly Democratic, have been criticized.

The Chronicle's findings point to a drop in funding for Crime Stoppers as new Democratic judges across Harris County took on their roles.

The Chronicle's article points out that the director for victim services at the Houston chapter of Crime Stoppers is a part of a show on another network that talks about the bond issues in our area, judges, and the upcoming election.

"They disputed any contention that this had any sort of partisan motive. Their argument was... there are people getting out on bond who are then going on to commit additional crimes and this a five-alarm fire and that's what we're focusing on, that was their argument," said Barned-Smith.

Crime Stoppers posted a lengthy response to the allegations on Saturday night.

Their response said in part, "We openly provided answers, upon answers to all. In addition to all the documentation that is public, we provided unfiltered access to our history, financials, full programing and programing statistics. Additionally, the CSoH CEO, Deputy Director, Direct of Communications, Bookkeeper, Chairman of the Board, an Executive Committee Board Members and others took time to answer questions. Sadly, regardless of information provided - the authors (particularly with the NYT) either ignored or manipulated what was given. Comments from our Chairman and current board members were passed upon for statements from former board members. For those reasons and many others, it became clear early on, the authors had a predetermined conclusion and would write only what suited that conclusion.

While all of this proved to be a tremendous waste of valuable time for the CSoH team and community - and even now does not deserve our attention, we are providing comment for the sake of the thousands of victims, families, schools, neighborhoods, volunteers, donors and partners we serve."

"During a time when crime is out of control and public safety remains the number one issue for Houstonians and victims - the New York Times, the Marshall Project and The Houston Chronicle ignored the plight of those suffering to instead coordinate attacks against the organization and its CEO and staff as they tirelessly work for the safety of all.

While we look forward to working with all media now and in the future, our community would very much like The New York Times to worry about crime in New York. Houstonians will take care of crime in Houston. And as we continue working, we are thankful for those currently willing to rise above the noise and work together for the safety of all,
" the statement continued.

You can read the full breakdown from the organization, including what they had to say about their funding and judges on the Crime Stoppers website.

Meanwhile, both articles and reporters garnered criticism with claims they conspired to do these pieces together. Some are calling them slam pieces.

Barned-Smith tells us they're competing publications both digging around on the same story.

"When we saw that they had published, we decided to as well because we weren't going to let interlopers from New York scoop the hometown paper. Absolutely not," said Barned-Smith.

Barned-Smith said the first portion of their piece was set to publish over the weekend, but they moved it up when they saw the Times publish their article.

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