There are two ways to look at this.
Houston averaged slightly more than four murders a week during 2012, unofficial figures indicate, inching up from 2011 when the total dropped to the lowest point since 1966.
In unincorporated Harris County, an early total suggests a three-year decline in murders may continue.
Houston police reported 216 murders for the 12 months ending Monday – up from 198 in 2011. Still, said police homicide Capt. David Gott, that figure is “an incredibly low number.”
The 2012 total is the second-lowest since 1966, when only 201 murders were reported in the city. Houston’s population, now 2.1 million, has more than doubled since 1966.
The year 2012 began with a rough start as the city’s first-quarter murder total jumped 27 percent above the same period in 2011. Incidents of this extreme violence leveled off in May after police stepped up enforcement activities in high crime areas.
Gott said his department has cleared about 70 percent of its 2012 cases, meaning that a suspect has been charged, died along with the victim – as in a murder-suicide – or has been no-billed by a grand jury because the killing was justified.
In unincorporated Harris County – with about 1.6 million residents, a jurisdiction more populous than Philadelphia – 63 murders were reported by year’s end. Department spokesman Alan Bernstein said that, like the police numbers, the sheriff’s total is unofficial and subject to revision.
The county total for 2009 was 96; 2010, 77; and 2011, 73.
You could say that the number of murders in Houston jumped by nine percent in 2012 over 2011. That would be entirely accurate, 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 basically noise. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, and that there isn’t anything going on in Houston to make it run counter to the national trend of declining crime. Check back in another four or five years and we’ll know for sure. Hair Balls has more.