HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In Houston and across much of the country, crime is up. This includes petty crime, violent crime and seemingly random crime.
All of it spiked since the start of the pandemic, and the Department of Homeland Security saw it coming.
It warned about the danger of social isolation which could "increase the vulnerability of some citizens to mobilize to violence" and "could accelerate mobilization to violence with extended periods of social distancing." The isolation is a "known risk factor" in inciting violent extremism, according to DHS.
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Howard Henderson, the director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University, said the key now is providing support to underserved communities as we come out of the pandemic.
"Without work, without jobs, without opportunities, violent crime had a tendency to rise. It feeds off of that in these poor communities," Henderson said. "When people feel like no one is listening to them, when they feel like they have nowhere to go, when money is short, when unemployment is high, frustration has a tendency to lead to violence and that's what is happening here."
Another theory states that the criminal justice system is, in part, to blame.
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"Throughout COVID, bail reform just naturally started being applied in the most dangerous felony cases across this country," said Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston. "We keep saying major cities across the country are seeing a spike in crime due to COVID. Well, it's a spike in crime partially due to COVID, but it's also very much due to bail reform."
In the last three years, 13 Investigates found that reported crime in 2020 was up 17% compared to 2019, and reported crime in 2021 was up 14% compared to 2019. HPD changed the way it reports crime to the FBI in 2018 so we cannot compare numbers earlier than 2019.
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"Crime peaks in the summer months anyway, but we're coming out of a pandemic and we know what that has done to violent crime," Henderson said. "But I think when you look at (Pres. Joe Biden's) five-point plan, I think that's going to be effective. I think giving police departments the resources that they need to focus on that small group they need to focus on is going to be effective."
That plan includes a crackdown on rogue firearm dealers helping local law enforcement with federal tools and community programs to engage young adults. But is it enough? Mankarious said she believes action at the state level is necessary. Her nonprofit agency is asking people to sign a petition which it will take to state lawmakers during their special session, asking they address felony bail reform. She said it will take action by the right people to make a change.
"Crime today is affecting every single pocket, every single neighborhood of our great city and county," she said. "We all care about this issue. But it does us no good when we are concerned, and we are angry, and we start criticizing local elected officials that have nothing to do with this issue."
Bail reform is among the agenda items in the upcoming legislative session that starts in Austin. Perhaps it begins to make a dent in a problem the feds predicted more than a year ago.
2020 DHS memo revealed strain from pandemic would possibly 'increase some to turn to violence'
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