Fighting Gun Violence and Investing in Public Safety
Across the nation, states, counties, and cities are reporting across-the-board increases in gun-related violent crime. And here in Harris County, we are not immune from this alarming national trend. Many factors are at play, including a lack of common sense gun laws that has led to unchecked weapons of war on our streets in the hands of people who should not have access to them.
To fight gun violence in Harris County, we are investing in solutions that are both tough on crime and smart on crime. This week, we approved a new budget that invests $1.4 billion in justice and safety alone. This is the highest amount we’ve ever spent on public safety in County history. This budget ensures that we’re giving law enforcement the resources they need – like a raise for our Harris County sheriff’s deputies and deputy constables, more overtime for law enforcement, and higher salaries and staff for the District Attorney’s Office. But the budget also makes sure we are addressing long-standing issues at the core of the crime wave, through programs like our Community Violence Interruption Program, which zeroes in on gun violence by helping those most at risk of committing crimes to escape gangs and resolve neighborhood conflicts peacefully by providing caseworkers that help with services like mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, employment services, and mediation. Or like the Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART) program. Fewer than four percent of 911 calls are related to violent crime – HART teams of trained social workers and behavioral health and medical professionals provide support and services to residents experiencing homelessness, behavioral health issues, or social welfare concerns, freeing up police to focus on violent crime. HART begins operations with the Sheriff’s Office this Spring, and we anticipate building several teams throughout the county over time. Last week, we also kicked off the $50 million Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods program by tearing down a decrepit building that served as a haven for drug dealers and other criminal elements in Cypress Station. The prevention and neighborhood safety program targets neighborhoods with high rates of crime to improve visibility in residential areas, address long-standing blighted and abandoned structures, and implement other improvements shown to enhance public safety.
These initiatives are not experiments. These are research-based methods that have a much greater success rate in ending cycles of violence than incarceration alone. Keeping communities safe doesn’t have to be all about law enforcement, or no law enforcement at all. We don’t have to choose – in Harris County, we know we must do both. We’re investing in our public safety AND in strategies that build up our communities, which is the smartest and most effective way to keep our residents safe.