Houstonians Rate Crime Top Problem
by: Laurie Johnson, September 1, 2009 5:09:05 am
Violent crimes, things like murder, sexual assault and robbery, are down in Houston.
But 72 percent of people in the KUHF-11 News survey say it's an accurate statement that crime in Houston is increasing.
"It's difficult for police officers to deal with fear and perception and then we have to get them the facts."
That's Houston Police Captain Mark Curran. He heads up the Neighborhood Protection Corps for HPD and the City of Houston. He says crime is always in the top problems cited in major cities, even if crime is down.
"The Houston Police Department has been very active in reducing violent crime. What has been driving the crime rate in Houston and why people believe has been what we call the non-violent, but it's been related to the burglary of residences and thefts."
So while violent crime is down, it's true that theft is on the rise. Crime, including drugs and gangs, was identified as the most important problem facing the city by 37 percent of people polled. That's far higher than other any issue, including the economy.
Rice University Political Scientist Bob Stein says the results stem from a type of fear people have about crime.
"At least for this sample and for this group of voters, crime isn't what we normally define it as. That is to say, the serious crime...it is what we call the penultimate types of what we call victimless crimes such as garbage being thrown in the street, broken windows, abandoned cars."
It's called the broken window effect. The fear of crime takes on more significance than crime itself. And Stein says that means you can expect to hear Houston's mayoral candidates stumping on crime issues.
"They're going to talk about ways in which they can alleviate those fears and address those concerns because they deal with more than just personal safety, it's a way of protecting property values. These voters are disproportionately homeowners and they're most concerned about declining property values. But in this election they think they can tell a mayor 'protect my neighborhood, protect my property' and that means making certain that there aren't these initial bad events happening."
Although non-violent crime and fear about crime is up, 75 percent surveyed say they approve of the job the Houston Police Department is doing and think Houston is on the right track.
Tonight at ten, 11 News looks at whether voters think the economy is getting worse or better and how far they're willing to go to plug the city's budget shortfall.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
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