Homicide Hot Spot? How about the Richmond Corridor!

I’m back to posting after a long hiatus, and I hope to be more consistent and prolific over 2014. There’s much to do and say, and I’ll do so here as an individual, separate from my responsibilities with the Sharpstown Civic Association. Here we go:

HouChron Murder Map









Frustrating is the nicest thing I can say about the latest piece in the Houston Chronicle (January 16th, 2014: “HPD concentrates on hot spots to reduce homicides) about our community in southwest Houston.  From the piece:

“Nearly half of the murders in District 19 were clustered within a half mile of one another, in and around a string of apartment complexes along a few blocks of Forum Park Drive to Bissonnet Street.

One tactic HPD has used to fight crime in portions of the city is hot-spot policing. Traditionally, this meant adding resources to areas where crime is higher than in other neighborhoods. However, this year officials in Martin’s division plan to try a new approach.

“We are starting to try to identify our hot spots based on crime anomalies, areas where crime is suddenly high where it wasn’t before,” he said. “Because that is actually where we are having a crime problem, as opposed to an area that’s just high in population and therefore per capita there’s going to be more crime.”

Martin would not disclose the new hot spot locations because the plan is in the early stages. He hopes the approach will help police focus on areas where they can have the most impact. But that doesn’t mean the HPD will not continue to police the highly populated portions of the city.

“Where the people are,” Martin said, “that’s where the demand is.”

Sgt. Walter Gaw of the HPD Westside Division oversees a six-officer team that primarily patrols in District 19. He said many calls for service are from residents of apartment complexes. They range from burglary and theft calls to aggravated assaults.

“It’s everything,” Gaw said as he patrolled the area Monday afternoon.”

Reporter Anita Hassan (with Yang Wang), analyzes the recently released Houston Police Department data on murders in 2013, and then provides in my opinion a flawed view. She implies that southwest Houston is a hot spot for homicides and interviews apartment dwellers in the Westwood area, ignoring the slate of murders in the Richmond Corridor from Fountain View to Pagewood. This is a tired narrative that I picked apart last year when she ran a similar “hotspot” story, and I’ll do so again.

We completed 2013 with the second fewest murders in the City of Houston since 1965, when the population was half of its current two million plus residents. This is the real story, not murder hot spots. Homicides are down across the country, but have risen sharply in unincorporated Harris County, which is another part of the untold story.

A quick glance at the interactive map the Chronicle published (see photo above) does show a cluster of murders in the Westwood community. However, there are many other clusters, not the least of which is the Richmond-Galleria-Westheimer corridor. It seems this part of town just doesn’t get mentioned in the crime beat stories, and boy should it.

But, looking at Westwood (considered part of Sharpstown as it falls in the Sharpstown Management District) we do see nine murders in 2013. Hassan describes this as a “clusters of killings” identifying the Forum Park–Bissonnet apartment complexes that are close together. She describes graffiti and gang tags in the portion where she interviews Kendall Pleasant, whose brother was “gunned down” about a year ago, in a Westwood apartment. The piece narrates a compelling picture of run down, gang infested, crime riddled apartments, all of which she seems to have identified from this HPD murder data.

The flaw in this approach is that of the nine reported murders only four occurred in a residential apartment or condo. The majority, five in fact, happened at bars, nightclubs, or motels in the area. If you patronized a seedy motel or were hanging out at a cheap night club, you could have found yourself in the middle of a homicide investigation, or worse a victim. The real problem is these commercial businesses, not the apartments that have “dope dealers somewhere over there”.

The Richmond-Galleria-Westheimer corridor is a different story. First, there were eleven murders in the same period, exceeding every other area she mentions in her piece. Of those, only four occurred at strip clubs, bars, or retail centers, the bulk, seven in fact, occurred in the apartments from Fountain View to Pagewood. So, more reported murders overall, and almost double those that occurred in residential locations. Apartment dwellers in this corridor had a much greater risk of homicide than those in the Forum Park Westwood area, at least based on HPD stats. But alas, this is a harder story to research and write, and betrays the simple narrative of ongoing Sharpstown area crime.

In all fairness, the bulk of the crime in 19G50 or 18F60, HPD’s Sharpstown area patrol beats, does occur in the apartment communities.  The problem for those of us trying to improve conditions (and our image) is that although our Sharpstown Subdivision is inexplicably linked with the area, we have practically no violent crime inside our boundaries. No murders, no sexual assaults, with a handful of robberies or assaults over the last few years. Keep in mind we have almost 25,000 residents inside the subdivision, a small city of its own, and we are in a big urban area. These types of “hot spot” stories just must stop, and we should call out these reporters who wish to do a simple data overview without really understanding the underlying information, and negative ramifications their stories will produce. Just stop already.

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