For many decades, crime in the U.S. was reported based on the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) system. But the FBI began implementing a new system in recent years known as the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS).1 The City of Houston began using NIBRS in June 2018 and has now begun publishing the basic NIBRS data online.
The NIBRS data gives us more detailed information about individual crimes than was readily available before and does so on a monthly basis, allowing us to track the incidence of crime during a year. However, one of the drawbacks to the switch is that it makes comparison to previous years difficult because the categories for specific crimes do not line up.
But looking at the data from both systems as a whole, it is clear that Houston has been experiencing a steadily growing crime problem since around 2013. The pandemic has altered the previous trajectory, causing some categories to increase and others to decrease.
The largest increase has been in aggravated assaults, which have more than doubled since the first of the year. I have heard anecdotally that family violence accounts for much of this increase, which would make sense under the circumstances.
Not too surprisingly, however, many categories of crimes are down. Thefts from automobiles, which had skyrocketed to over 100 per day, fell sharply in March and April, demonstrating the degree to which it is a crime of opportunity. Empty parking lots don’t make for very good hunting grounds.
Burglaries and robberies have both also been down, as I suspect burglars are finding more people at home and robbers fewer potential targets on the streets.
HPD now groups crimes into three categories, crimes against a person, crimes against property, and crimes against society. Here is what the charts look like for the first two.
Last week, I interviewed former Houston Police Officer Union President, Ray Hunt, and Crime Stoppers Director of Victim Services, Andy Kahan. They both squarely lay the blame for the increase in violent crime at the feet of the newly elected activist judges and their more liberal bail practices. Both cited startling examples of serious crimes being committed by defendants out on bonds. Kahan also shared a disturbing report about dysfunction in the parole system. You can watch the show here. I will be writing more about this soon.
Going forward, the NIBRS system is going to provide us much more detailed and timely information about crimes in our community and I applaud HPD for making the data available online monthly. It is too bad that Harris County is not posting countywide information but given the current attitudes at the County I won’t hold my breath waiting on that.
When we look back at the numbers for the first half of 2020, they will likely be an anomaly driven by the pandemic. But the longer-term trend is clear. Crime continues to get worse in our community. If we do not address this issue, it will be just another reason for people to decide to live and work somewhere else.
1 NIBRS has two categories of offenses. Category A comprises the more serious offenses. This is a link to the various offenses in each category. The City posts its data in three categories, crimes against a person, crimes against property, and crimes against society. For the most part, the crimes against a person track the old category of “violent crime.” But inexplicably, HPD is categorizing robbery, which is clearly a violent crime, as a property crime and not a crime against a person. [Click here for a link to HPD’s monthly summaries.]