More manpower may not be enough to stem rising murder rate in Houston, criminologist says

City committing $4 million to bring homicides down

HOUSTON – The city’s murder rate has climbed 44% year to date, prompting Houston to commit $4 million to pay for increased patrols in six problem areas of the city.

It’s a national problem and a complicated one, according to Dr. Mitchel Roth, a Sam Houston State criminologist who’s written 14 books on crime. Roth said more manpower is not a silver bullet.

“Putting more police on the street doesn’t necessarily bring down crime,” Roth said.

Before the pandemic set in, Roth said the murder rate was already on the rise.

“If you want to look at it a different way, since May, the homicide rate has gone down because, in May, it was up 50%, it had gone up 50% over the previous year, and now it’s at 44%,” he said.

READ: Houston close to surpassing two-decade homicide record as murder rate continues to soar

That result was attributed at the time to domestic violence and mental health issues. Now, Roth said bigger engines are driving the surge.

“There’s one main ingredient driving it, it’s all the impact from COVID. All the stress, and the economic dislocation,” he said. “And so you provide COVID with Hurricane Harvey, back to back dislocation events, it affects a lot of people.

And other issues remain to complicate the problem, gang violence, the drug trade, a national trend in rising violent crime rates.

READ: What’s behind Houston, Harris County’s rising homicide rates?

Will more officers on the street help?

Roth said it’s worth a try, but there’s no guarantee.

“The only thing they can do is actually do it and figure out how long are we going to go with this,” he said. “What are we expecting the homicide rate to go down to? And if it doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board.”

Houston police are in the process of seeing if it will work. It will be months before analysts like Roth will be able to tell if they’ve made headway.