Houston's crime rate down, but police staffing issues remain

HOUSTON – Houston’s overall crime rate was lower in 2017, but staffing issues for the city’s Police Department still remain.

That was the main takeaway from Monday’s news conference by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who highlighted the 2.1 percent overall drop in crime, despite the at least 2,000-officer deficit at the 5,100-officer department.

VIDEO: Chief discusses 2017 Houston crime stats

Acevedo also called out Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his call to cap tax revenues for cities, saying he hoped the proposal is just part of political theater.

“It’s pretty easy to do when you’re sitting at a capitol building and don’t have to respond to crime scenes day in and day out,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo likened the department’s staffing problem to making lemonade with lemon peels, saying response times to lower-priority calls like noise complaints have increased.

“You just can’t do it,” Acevedo said. “No matter how good your officers are, no matter how dedicated they are, we just can’t do it. So I want to apologize ahead of time, because we get beat up for those calls, but it is what it is.”

Acevedo said he plans to work with Mayor Sylvester Turner this year to educate residents on the difficulties facing the department and convince them to put more money into the city’s police force.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the taxpayers,” Acevedo said.

By the numbers: Houston crime

While most crimes, including homicides, were down in 2017, sexual and aggravated assaults increased, Acevedo said. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers.

Homicides – Acevedo said there were 269 homicides in the city in 2017 -- down from 301 homicides in 2016. Nearly 20 percent of the homicides were gang-related, and 73 percent of the victims had a criminal history, Acevedo said.

Robberies – Acevedo said the number of robberies in 2017 was down 1.9 percent from 2016.

Sexual assaults – Acevedo said sexual assaults were up by 12.6 percent – from 1,224 in 2016 to 1,378 in 2017.

Aggravated assaults – The chief said aggravated assaults were also up by 13 percent in 2017, saying that 70 percent of these victims knew their assailants. Acevedo said this means the problem isn’t a policing issue, but instead speaks to human decency.

“We’ve lost the art of respect for one another,” Acevedo said.

Response times – Acevedo said response times for low-priority calls increased from 5.4 minutes to 5.5 minutes, but response times on high-priority calls were flat from year to year.