Houston murder rate skyrockets in early 2015

City's track for 2015 murders predicted at 281

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston's murder rate skyrocketed 30 percent in the first nine months of this year, while the clearance rate dipped 6 percent, according to the Houston Police Department's figures.

A clearance rate measures the percentage of cases solved. Exactly 211 murders were recorded in the city of Houston through Sept. 30. That puts the city on track for a predicted total of 281 murders in 2015.

That figure is significantly higher than the 198 murders that Houston had in all of 2011, but significantly lower than 2006's 377 murders.

"Houston is a very safe city," Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said.

"The average Joe shouldn't be concerned about a 30 percent rise in the murder rate in Houston?" Channel 2 Investigator Joel Eisenbaum asked.

"(Houstonians) should be concerned from the standpoint that young black men are killing young black men at a prolific rate," McClelland said.

McClelland said the majority of murders in the city are committed by people with criminal records against people with criminal records.

The chief declined to identify policy changes, if any, he was making within the department to address the increased murder rate, but agencies far and wide are dealing with similar upticks.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office saw a similar increase in murders in the first nine months of this year, up 25 percent.

The Sheriff's Office was unable to provide murder case clearance rate figures for year-to-date comparisons after repeated requests.

Stephanie Karas, a University of Houston Downtown lecturer on criminal justice matters, said she believes police departments across the country might be doing less active policing in light of several high-profile incidents, in which police misconduct was alleged.

"I think the current climate with policing is (that) they're under a lot more scrutiny. Police may be less interactive, less assertive, in how they're going about some of their interactions with their communities," Karas said.

McClelland disputed that contention and pointed to gun laws in Texas as a leading contributing factor to Houston's murder rate.

"People have private transactions where they buy and sell guns in a parking lot. We have so many guns in our society in the hands of the wrong people. We need to do criminal justice reform, and we need stricter gun regulation," McClelland said.

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