HOUSTON – Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo held a news conference Tuesday to address the rise in violent road rage incidents in Houston.
Acevedo was joined by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and members of the Texas Department of Public Safety who discussed what they are calling an alarming increase.
According to Acevedo, Houston has seen a marked increase this year in terms of road rage incidents and aggravated assaults resulting from road rage in 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone across the country and state, and nerves are frayed, Acevedo said. During the COVID-19 period, Houston has seen about 200 road rage shootings this year, which is a 33% increase, six of which have led to murder, Acevedo said.
Because of the increase, Acevedo said HPD will be starting a collective effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Harris County District Attorney aimed at bringing road-rage incidents down.
“I’ve directed our team to work together ... to go after aggressive drivers who, if not stopped, might become another violent statistic,” Acevedo said. “Anyone who thinks that they can just go out there and engage in road rage and commit aggravated assaults and thinks they are going to get away with it would be wrong.”
Acevedo said Gov. Greg Abbott approved the initiative and directed DPS troopers to support HPD in their efforts to combat road rage. Troopers in marked and unmarked units will be deployed to hot spots identified by HPD, and they will also provide help with other operations including gang and drug investigations.
“The State of Texas is working closely with HPD to provide the necessary resources that will effectively combat violence in the Houston community,” said Governor Abbott. “The support that DPS is providing to HPD will protect Houstonians and crackdown on illegal and violent activity, including road rage-related shootings, within the city.”
DPS will also provide one helicopter and two patrol planes to provide direct air support, Abbott said.
Acevedo said even though law enforcement officials are not psychologists, they have seen a palpable rise in violent crime due to the psychological factors caused by the pandemic. However, Acevedo said, officials are stepping up to address the situation.
“When we can and the law permits, we will be looking to forfeit cars,” Acevedo said. “So those (who) are out there acting a fool and putting people at risk, trying to hurt people, you may be doing it on foot by the time this process is done. And if the DA’s office and the juries that will be holding you accountable have any say, you’ll probably end up in prison.”
Gonzalez echoed Acevedo saying the county is seeing more and more incidents where minor traffic incidents are resulting in escalated crimes like assault.
He spoke about the road-rage incident Friday where one person was shot and killed.
“We have seen more and more situations of minor traffic incidents that are escalating into assaults and shootings,” Gonzalez said. “We’re joined here today ... to make sure that collectively we call upon our community to stop aggressive driving and to respect one another on the roadways.”
Ogg agreed, saying the people of Harris County deserve safe roadways, “but when we have individuals who are driving recklessly ... Houstonians are unnecessarily having their lives put at risk.”
“We’re not just going to try anything ... we’re going to try everything,” Ogg said.
Here is how she said the new initiative will work:
“If you’re driving recklessly ... (and) a gun is involved, that now means that the legal act of carrying a gun when combined with the reckless driving is a criminal offense for which you will go to jail. If you use that weapon and threaten or shoot at another person ... then of course you’ll be prosecuted for those more heinous crimes. But just the fact that you’re taking a risk using a gun, endangering people’s lives, allows the District Attorney Office, under the law, to subject a vehicle to forfeiture as a criminal instrument.”
Ogg said the ability to forfeit a vehicle has always been part of the law, but she pledges to pursue it more actively in an effort to combat road rage or reckless incidents.
She urged the public to report reckless driving of any caliber.