During a recent Houston city council hearing, acting police chief Martha Montalvo rattled off updated crime statistics in the city. While some areas are doing exceptionally well, others are failing. Council members pointed to increased police presence in certain areas, which they say left others lacking and accounted for some of the increase in crime.
The ultimate message that officials wanted the public to take away was that more police officers are needed, and for that to happen the city needs more money.
Currently, Houston has about 5,300 HPD officers, covering a 627 square mile city of 2.1 million people. Out of the five largest cities in the nation, Houston has the least sworn officers but largest area to cover, leaving a number of officers per square mile that is deemed insufficient.
While money for additional officers may help the problem, so would other cost-effective methods like community policing, or appointing a permanent police chief so that a long-term strategy can be set in place. It’s been nearly a year since the mayor’s election and a police chief has not been named.
But, another option would be to partner with the National Network for Safe Communities to benefit from their initiatives, particularly their Group Violence Intervention.
GVI is a program that is proven to reduce street homicide and gun violence. The program would have a major impact in Houston because while the violence breakdowns are: 16 percent family related, 15 percent robbery, and 10 percent narcotics, the largest share, 20 percent, is gang related violence. Houston is currently seeing a 12 percent increase in murders according to Montalvo.
The program consists of partnering community members, law enforcement, and social service providers to address violence with a small, but active, number of people committing these violent crimes. They send a credible, clear, and moral message about violence and let them know what they should expect if the violence continues. They also offer help for those interested, giving gang members a chance to break away from the lifestyle.
Essentially, this combined group of city leaders conveys the message, through face-to-face meetings referred to as “call-ins,” that if the violence continues these groups can expect to see the full force of the law come piling down on them.
The idea is to create “collective accountability, to foster internal social pressure that deters violence.”
Now, this sounds nice in theory, but does it actually work?
GVI has been implemented in some of the highest crime areas like Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and Baltimore and has a strong track record of success.
When implemented in Chicago the program saw a 23 percent reduction in shooting behavior from those groups involved in the call-in. Another of their initiatives, Project Safe Neighborhoods, was implemented and saw a 37 percent reduction in homicides in response.
After being brought to Indianapolis, the city had a 34 percent reduction in homicide, Boston saw a 63 percent reduction in youth homicide, and New Orleans saw a 32 percent reduction in group-related homicides. Similar successes continued in Stockton, CA; Lowell, MA; Cincinnati, OH; and Minneapolis, MN.
HPD is exploring options like predictive policing to target potential crime, ShotSpotter – a gunshot detection and location service, and StarChase – a vehicle pursuit management service. The problem is this all costs money and takes time, and we are a cash strapped city seeing crime gradually increase.
The great thing about GVI, and other programs offered by the NNSC is that all it takes is buy in from law enforcement and city leaders to implement and the results are incomparable.