The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
All across America, violent crime has increased — and sadly Harris County has not been immune to this national trend. It’s no secret what is driving crime both here and across the nation — the economic consequences of the pandemic and the widespread availability and use of guns on our streets. COVID-19 has left more than just a body count in its wake. A secondary consequence has been victims of crime and a criminal court backlog that continues to delay justice for too many. The very same neighborhoods that have long been ignored by the county, by private investment, and by so many other institutions are the same ones that have been victimized the most by rising crime and gun violence. Blighted buildings, dark streets, and unsafe and abandoned structures serve as incubators of crime and gun violence.
The good news is that we are not powerless against this challenge. Over the past three years we’ve made historic anti-crime and neighborhood safety investments. Each year, we’ve increased the budgets for every law enforcement agency in the county, including the District Attorney. We’ve freed up law enforcement to focus on the most violent criminals by reinforcing them with public health experts who can cover them for non-violent, routine calls. We’ve launched crime interruption programs designed to break the cycle of gun violence through community policing and outreach. We’ve allocated millions to tackle the unacceptable backlog in criminal court cases in our county, hiring more judges, expanding jury operations, and allocating more than $17 million for overtime and equipment to speed court cases along. We’ve invested millions to support our law enforcement as they focus on the most violent crimes.
And yesterday, we passed a new $50 million Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods program: a crime prevention and neighborhood safety program that uses data to target county neighborhoods where decay and abandonment are driving violent crime. The program will improve street lighting, sidewalks, and visibility in residential areas, address longstanding blighted and abandoned structures, restore vacant lots, and implement other improvements shown to enhance public safety. We know this approach works due to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and others that show that investments like these not only reduce crime, but save taxpayer dollars. Yesterday, we also issued a resolution in support of the addition of two courts to our justice system to help us get through the court backlog that has slowed justice in our county to a crawl.
We owe it to the law enforcement officers and communities we serve to put skin in the game — to have tools at the ready to help them and our courts prevent and fight violent crime from all sides. There is no silver bullet, but by working smart and investing in solutions that fight the root causes of crime in our community, we can make a difference now and for years to come.