With crime on the rise in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner is implementing One Safe Houston, an initiative designed to tackle what he said is a public health crisis.
The initiative was announced during a Feb. 2 press conference. It focuses on four key areas: violence reduction and crime prevention; a crisis response team; youth outreach opportunities; and key community partnerships. According to Turner, the program was created using researched-based strategies that will ultimately help reduce crime and increase public safety.
“Houstonians, it is time for us to act collectively, comprehensively and holistically to address the rise in crime in our city,” Turner said. “Every Houstonian deserves to feel safe.”
Included in the plan is funding to the Houston Police Department. Turner said he has allocated $5.7 million to be given to HPD so that they can not only add to their department with future cadet classes, but also have an additional 125 police officers patrol overtime in areas where they know the most violent crimes are occurring.
The city will also be giving $1.9 million to add 15 park rangers, allowing them to better work with law enforcement, Turner said.
According to Turner, the initiative will combat gun violence as well. The city is investing $1 million in a “robust gun buyback initiative,” he said, to remove unwanted or illegal firearms that are being used as what he described as “crime guns.”
The initiative also addresses violence at nightclubs and convenience stores, with a proposal for an ordinance that will require security cameras at certain businesses that have seen an increase in crime. Investigative divisions within HPD and other departments are working together to determine where the most violent crime has taken place. Additional details on how that ordinance will be implemented have not been revealed.
Turner said the biggest issue Houston needs to address right now to combat the rise in crime is a backlog of court cases. Harris County has over 100,000 cases, making it the greatest backlog in Texas, he said. To combat this, the city is giving $1.5 million in additional funding to the Houston Forensic Science Center.
“We need more courts, more judges, more staffing,” Turner said. “If one part of the criminal justice system is not working, then the rest will not work either.”
In coordination with addressing the backlog, Turner is also targeting the bail bond system, where he said bail bond companies are charging less than the 10% minimum, allowing violent criminals back on the streets.
“City administration has also asked the city legal department to propose an ordinance prohibiting this type of arrangement,” according to the One Safe Houston booklet detailing Turner’s proposal.
Turner said he wants these companies to charge a premium equal to at least 10%.
According to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, a number of violent criminals under indictment are out in the city. He said he wants to create a list of the 200 most violent offenders and get them off the streets. Finner emphasized those individuals still deserve a fair trial, but said he wants to speed up the overall process.
“We will not allow criminals to take over our city; we’re standing strong,” Finner said. “We are not here to point fingers. We’re here to talk facts.”
Another initiative is expected to be announced soon that will be focused on the technology needed to combat violent crime in the city, Finner said.
As for One Safe Houston, funding will also be given to Cure Violence, a program that reduces crime in targeted communities through the use of outreach workers. Another $1 million will be given to the Community Re-Entry Network Program to help former incarcerated individuals reintegrate into the community.
One Safe Houston will also focus on domestic violence through a response team and outreach strategy. According to District C Council Member Abbie Kamin, who also chairs the council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, domestic violence saw a dramatic increase from 2020 to 2021.
According to Turner, the initiative will cost about $44 million in total. He said public safety is his No. 1 concern, adding that everyone in the city must work together.
“As your mayor, however, it is my responsibility to focus on the city of Houston even when we are dealing with a nationwide rise in crime,” Turner said. “My primary responsibility is what's taking place in the city of Houston.”