Shared from the 9/19/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Stick to the facts

Public safety is a real issue; voters don’t need fear-mongering from mayoral challengers.

Karen Warren / Staff photographer

Mayoral candidates Tony Buzbee, left, and Bill King, right, argue that crime has risen under Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure, but the data doesn’t support that.

We all want to keep ourselves and our families safe. We want to go for a walk without fear of getting robbed, to park our cars without fear of a break-in, to leave our houses without fear of a burglary.

It’s no surprise that crime often emerges as a central issue in Houston’s mayoral races.

It should be. Every resident in the city, whether living in Kingwood or Gulfton, whether affluent or struggling to get by, deserves a neighborhood free of crime. Each deserves a police department with enough resources to respond quickly to calls for help and to solve crimes efficiently and expediently.

We also deserve mayoral candidates who will not resort to fear-mongering or distorting crime stats to drum up votes.

Characterizing Houston as “one of the most dangerous cities in the United States” or claiming that “all types of crime are getting worse,” as Tony Buzbee said in a speech and on his website, is misleading.

So is exaggerating the increase in violent crime under incumbent Sylvester Turner, or asserting, without evidence, that gangs are spreading across the city, as Bill King has done.

In fact, both the murder rate and overall crime in Houston have plummeted over the past 30 years, reflecting national trends. From 2015 to 2018, there has been a drop in robberies, murders, burglaries, thefts and stolen vehicles.

According to FBI statistics, Houston ranked 75th in the rate of murders among the nation’s 298 largest cities, 31st in aggravated assault and 22nd in violent crime. It was 54th in overall crime rate.

Although violent crime, including aggravated assaults and rape, did increase during Turner’s first two years in office, preliminary data shows a decline from 2017 to 2018. Overall, violent crime is up about 4 percent since 2015, the year before Turner took office.

“When we talk about the murder capitals of the country, the violent crime capitals of the country, Houston is not one of the cities people put on that list,” Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based criminologist told Houston Chronicle reporters St. John Barned-Smith and Jasper Scherer.

That doesn’t mean Buzbee and King are wrong to focus on public safety. Houstonians have the right to know what mayoral candidates will do to keep them safe.

Questions need to be asked, and answered, on police response times and clearance rates. We need to know how the winning candidate will combat the gangs that plague some neighborhoods and what can be done to make all communities safer.

Buzbee and King, for example, have both called for the hiring of additional police officers. So has Turner, who said he supports expanding the police department.

But campaign rhetoric should enlighten, not play to people’s deepest fears. Candidates shouldn’t rely on crime statistics from “reputed real estate websites,” as Buzbee told the editorial board he did, or from viral videos and social media posts, which King pointed to as evidence of rampant gang activity.

Using people’s fear of crime is not a new tactic for politicians seeking office. Nor is skewing statistics to back up a partisan stance. There is no doubt that some Houstonians worry about crime and are concerned about being victimized.

Even more reason for candidates to be clear-eyed and credible. In a time when misinformation all too often goes unchecked, voters must demand that they stick to the facts.

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