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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Texas-sized mess in Houston

Nicole Gelinas at the City-Journal has been busy writing again, and like me, she's concerned about the spike in violent crime here in the Houston area.

She’s done some interesting statistical analysis, too, and although I have a deep distrust of statistics on general principle, hers is the first I’ve seen of what impact – specifically – the influx of evacuees might be having.

At least 35 percent of Houston’s December increase in homicides — five of 14 over last year’s level—directly stemmed from the presence of Katrina evacuees

December was the month we jumped 70% over last year - but will FEMA see it as their problem? They probably would, if Houston’s police had been fully functional before Katrina… but they weren’t. Furthermore, it's still not clear to me how much of the overall current crime can be traced directly back to the evacuees.

What is missing from the City-Journal article is that the HPD is abysmally understaffed, even for “normal” criminal activity (which already included the MS-13).

According to HPD, Houston needs 400 more officers to average 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents. The average for large cities is 2.8 per 1,000.

"The priority has to be rebuilding the police force," Radoff said.

An understaffed police department has been a growing concern since officers began retiring in April 2004 for better pension benefits.

So – we were already in a downward spiral over here. What the influx of that well-known criminal underclass did was give us a push down the slippery slope.

If I thought there was any chance that the MS-13 and NOLA gangs would just cancel each other out without killing innocent bystanders, I’d suggest letting them have at it. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to work out that way, and the thought of innocents being caught in the crossfire - wherever they're from - is horrifying.

Whoever pays to help Houston with its crime problem, though, needs to come through very soon. There is growing hostility toward the evacuees as a group, complete with petitions, suggestions that they all be “bused back”, and some truly appalling racism. (One has only to visit the Houston Chronicle’s own reader forums to get a vile taste.) The backlash is starting, and it's likely to get worse.

Yes, Houston has a problem and desperately needs some help. What a sad predicament for a city just recently named “Texan of the Year”, and the neighbors to whom it reached out.