When the Obama Administration denied Houston's request for 240 new officers under the COPS grant program (discussed on Grits here and here), Houston Mayor Bill White said, "We were told that Houston did not receive funding because our city budget is not distressed and our crime rates have gone down to the lowest levels in decades. Cities should not be penalized for good law enforcement and sound financial practices."
That didsn't sound so grave. Just a few days later, though, in yesterday's Houston Chronicle we get a story titled "Houston's crime outpaces officers," portraying Houston PD as critically understaffed to the point that it risks launching an immediate crime wave:
So which are we to believe? Does Houston have a relatively low need for additional officers because of declining crime and large numbers of recent cadet classes, or is there a looming crisis that would require a 30% staffing increase at a cost of $200 million to remedy? I don't know the answer, but it's fascinating to see such widely disparate assessments.
“There's no doubt that there's going to be a spike in crime as a result of this,” said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. “We have to learn to work smarter and try to use technology a little bit more, but some hard decisions may have to be made and some other city budgets may have to be looked at. Tough times cause people to have to make tough decisions.”
Adding to the confusion, another fascinating disconnect is that people are more concerned about crime in Houston, even though crime has declined to its lowest point in decades:
Houstonians, according to polling data, are as concerned about crime as ever. Nearly three quarters of residents interviewed in 2008 for Rice University's annual Houston Area Survey said they were “somewhat worried” or “very worried” they or a family member will become a crime victim. That is higher than any year since the mid-'90s, a time only a few years removed from when Houston had more than 500 murders annually and some of the highest crime rates in the country.Here's an hypothesis: Perhaps the reason Houstonians are more concerned about crime than a fact-based assessment might dictate is that they're receiving messages constantly through the media that police don't have the resources to do the job, even though "crime rates have gone down to the lowest levels in decades."