How HPD is tackling crime in area where 16-year-old girl was killed

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In front of Wilcrest Baptist Church Monday afternoon, two sisters saw their younger sister shot to death.

"She was only 16. She was just a baby," said Prie Pratt, the victim's sister, through tears.

Mareja Pratt was a sophomore at Alief Elsik High School. She had a big smile, loved school, according to her family, and wanted to go to college. Investigators believe she was killed over a social media feud.

READ MORE: Family of teen killed over 'social media beef' ask suspect to turn himself in

"It just made me sick to my stomach to go out there yesterday to see a dead 16-year-old girl, lying on the street for no reason," said Houston Police Commander David Angelo. "Just the senseless taking of a life ... of a 16-year-old who was getting ready to start her life."

Angelo is the commander of Westside Division, one of the largest and most populated beats in Houston. Much like the city, violent crime is on the rise in the area. It's up 14% year-to-date which is even higher than the citywide number of 11%.

Murder is also up in the Westside Division, but only by 25%.

The citywide number is 42%.

The uptick is attributed to the stressors of the pandemic, and it affects anyone who needs the police.

"Waiting times, response times have increased a little. It's just the reality of where we are," said Angelo.

Crimes are being prioritized and by most afternoons, calls are backing up, said Angelo.

Westside is also one of the six crime hotspots to benefit from the mayor's crime reduction initiative announced last week. Using CARES ACT funds, 100 extra officers are now on the streets until the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Houston moving $4.1M of CARES Act money to push back on rising crime during pandemic

Data will be the driver.

"We're trying to find out when the crime is occurring. Where it is occurring. What type of crime is occurring so we can throw the appropriate resources, deploy the resources to the problem," Angelo added.

An increased presence, quicker response times and more tactical operations are the goals to drive crime down. The numbers are starting to slow down, said Angelo.

"We're starting to see some good news," he said. "We're not seeing the spike in the crime. We're starting to see a slow elevation."

It gives him hope the current crime trend will soon be on the decline.

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