Harris Co launches two programs to reduce crime and reliance upon police
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Photo by Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media.

Harris County leaders unanimously approved a $2.6 million policing initiative they say will target communities with high rates of violent crime in unincorporated Harris County.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the proposal ahead of Commissioners Court Tuesday. The plan, developed by the sheriff’s office, includes on average more than 90 additional law enforcement officers per day to help focus on areas identified as having the highest incidence of violent crime.

“Even though crime is up, the good news is that the violent crime and the violent crime increase is concentrated in particular communities within our county,” Judge Hidalgo said in a press conference. “It’s not necessarily all over the place, and so that helps us tackle it.”

County commissioners say the $2.6 million Harris County Safe program would use mapping, data, and analysis to pinpoint seven areas for increased police presence. The plan does not include hiring new deputies and instead will use overtime to deploy an average increase of 94 officers per day across the county.

The final piece of the proposal is to seek input and feedback from the communities impacted.

“The Sheriff’s Office will partner with those specific neighborhoods before, during and after the initiative,” Hidalgo said. “It’s important that we communicate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the results.”

Law enforcement agencies across the country have been reporting increased crime throughout the pandemic. County data shows that violent crime increased by more than 17% from 2019 to 2021. That includes a nearly 33% increase in homicides and a 31% in aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

A spokesman for Hidalgo said the new policing program would work alongside other non-policing initiatives, like a $50 million anti-blight program passed earlier this year to make infrastructure improvements in unsafe areas, including new lighting and sidewalks along with planting new trees and other beautification projects. Those are funds that will be used in the most violence-prone areas so it’s natural that these neighborhoods will benefit from that. It also works alongside a program passed by commissioners earlier this year that uses public health responders to interrupt violent crime by identifying early warning signs of gun violence. That program also uses health experts to help people with nonviolent mental health, substance abuse and housing insecurity issues.

The latest policing proposal is just the next step in a holistic approach to addressing crime, according to Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“Too often in years past we have brought down the thunder of God on communities, and then just left debris behind,” he said.