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REPAYING GOOD WITH EVIL? by Tara Ross Print E-mail
by Special to    Fri, Dec 2, 2005, 02:14 PM

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s easy to wonder if Texas will be the latest demonstration of this rule in action. Just how much will we be punished for the assistance that we offered to Hurricane Katrina evacuees earlier this year?

I’m speaking of increased crime, particularly in the Houston area. An evacuee-caused crime wave would have real ramifications in Texas, not only for our safety, but also on our local and state budgets. Consider just a handful of the increased law enforcement needs that Texans could be forced to finance: Crowded jails, increased police patrols, more heavily loaded court dockets, additional time monitoring parolees and sex offenders.

But is crime really up?  Or is the problem one of perception, rather than reality?

The Houston police department has been sending mixed messages about the status of criminal activity in its city. Initially, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt claimed that criminal activity had not increased. “The activity that we’ve seen in the businesses and neighborhoods adjacent to [evacuee centers] has been as close to normal as possible,” he claimed in early September.

By late September, the police department was acknowledging isolated incidents of crime, but they were still denying a widespread problem. Sgt. Nate McDuell of the Houston Police Department told the Houston Chronicle: “There have been some burglaries, but ‘is it rampant like it was in New Orleans? Not even close. We don’t have bands of thugs roaming the streets here. The lid is on here.’”

That calm tone did not last long. By October 19, Police Chief Hurtt was planning to increase police patrols in areas where evacuees are gathered. “There is going to be an effect on the crime rate,” he stated. Hurtt still did not feel that serious crimes would rise significantly. By mid-November, Hurtt acknowledged that the predicted increase in crime had come to fruition in some neighborhoods. Moreover, violent crime reportedly increased 5.6 percent during August and September, as compared to the same period last year. Hurtt has requested 400 new police officers, and he has asked FEMA for financial assistance. “We’re not going to let anyone come into the city and break the law at will,” he declared.

The long-term impact on Texas’s and Houston’s crime rates likely can’t be quantified with any degree of certainty for many months. Indeed, the real effects on Texas likely won’t be known until we have a better idea of how many evacuees will return to Louisiana and how many will stay. Perhaps any increase in crime will turn out to be only temporary.

This commentator is not optimistic, however. The mixed commentary of the Houston Police Department gives some reason for worry. But I have heard additional, anecdotal evidence that contributes to my feelings of pessimism.

I’m told by friends in Houston that the feeling of the city has changed since August. Some don’t notice a difference, but others feel that they are not as safe. Several are working harder to ensure that their homes are secure. More tangibly, one friend tells me that in the months preceding Hurricane Katrina, the leasing office at her apartment complex had not notified its residents of even one crime in the area. In the weeks following Katrina, she began receiving notices about crime every other week or so.

I continue to hope that Texans will not be repaid with evil for their good deed of this past August.  But it doesn’t seem likely.









Book authored by Tara Ross - Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College

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