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Murder by numbers

There were a lot fewer murders committed in Houston last year than in recent years.

HPD recorded 195 murders for the year as of Friday, a 27.5 percent decrease from the previous year’s total of 269. The preliminary figure doesn’t yet include the death of a 27-year-old woman who police believe was killed in her west Houston apartment on New Year’s Eve.

As long as the 2011 total remains below 200, it would be the lowest since 1965, when 139 people were killed, said HPD homicide division Capt. David Gott.

Harris County’s unincorporated areas also reported fewer murders. The 2011 preliminary total stands at 60 – down more than 7 percent from the 65 in 2010. Murder totals have continued to drop in unincorporated Harris County since 2009, when 87 were reported.

Hair Balls has a slightly different number for the city. The story primarily focuses on the comparison to last year, but if you look at the accompanying chart, what stands out to me is that the number of murders in Houston has dropped nearly fifty percent from the peak of 376 in 2006. Since the story doesn’t look that far back, it doesn’t mention this, which means it also doesn’t dredge up the association of that year with Hurricane Katrina evacuees and their supposed effect on the city’s crime rate. For the city of Houston, there’s a spike from 2005-07, and a trough this year, otherwise the annual number of murders is between 250 and 300. For unincorporated Harris County, outside of a one-time spike in 2009, the body count is basically the same, right at about 60, every year from 2004 through 2011. I point this out for two reasons. One is that it’s plausible to me that there isn’t much more we can do to affect the murder rate in a given year. It is what it is, and outside of larger societal trends that affect the crime rate in general, year to year variations are likely to be statistical noise. What that means is that if the number creeps back up to 250 or so for Houston in 2012, it doesn’t represent a failure of public policy, just a return to historic norms after an unusually slow year. That’s not going to stop the city from taking credit for the decline, nor should it. They do have some policies to point to as causes, and as such we may see a downward trend. But don’t be surprised if it goes up this year, and don’t spend too much time looking for a reason. These things do happen.

And two, in 2010 after the uptick in unincorporated Harris County murders was noted, County Commissioner Steve Radack was critical of Sheriff Adrian Garcia for not having enough patrols to suit him. I can only presume that after two years of normal numbers, including a dip in 2011 to the lowest level seen since 2004, that Radack will now be fulsome in his praise of the Sheriff for his restoration of law and order. Otherwise, his criticism from two years ago will have been shown to be little more than crass political haymaking, and surely that wasn’t the case. Right?

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3 Comments

  1. [...] would focus on the amount that we dedicate to police, fire, and EMS. I mean, surely in a time of declining crime rates, there is a case to be made to reduce the size of the police force. But just go try to find a [...]

  2. [...] comparison and you change the perception of the data. As an expert quoted in the story said, and as I suggested last year, a bump in the numbers this year doesn’t mean anything. We could still be in the [...]

  3. [...] but it would also be needlessly alarmist and not really useful. Or you could say, as I have done before, that in the absence of a multi-year trend, small variations from one year to the next are [...]

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