HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) — This election season, many politicians are using the term “defund the police,” but a review of the data shows that very few places nationally, and in Southeast Texas, actually do.
The video above is from a previous report.
‘It’s so bad’: Crime a big issue for voters ahead of midterm elections
Johnnie Green Jr. has lived in the same area for over 70 years.
“I was born and raised in Sunnyside,” Green said. “I’ve never lived anywhere but Sunnyside. »
It’s a place that’s changed a lot more than the paint on Green’s house.
Green said there aren’t as many vacant lots as there used to be. The biggest difference though is the amount of flashing lights in his neighborhood.
“Crime is off the charts. It’s so bad,” Green said.
Data from neighborhood safety tracker ABC13 shows the murder rate where Green lives is one of the highest in the city. To reduce crime, Green believes there is an answer.
“We need police officers, and they need to be paid fairly because I wouldn’t want to be a police officer,” Green said. “It’s dangerous work.”
“Defunding the police” is a phrase often used ahead of the 2022 elections, but are governments really doing it?
The idea of paying off the police took center stage. After the killing of Houston native George Floyd, there was a lot of talk about defunding the police, but numbers from the ABC13 data team show few did.
In an analysis of more than 100 city and county budgets across the country, about 90% allocated more or the same amount of money to law enforcement in 2022 compared to three years ago.
In Harris County, the budgets for the sheriff’s and constable’s offices have seen a 15% increase. In Houston, the police department‘s budget has grown from $900 million four years ago to nearly $1 billion in 2022.
Now, just because more money is being spent doesn’t mean crime is down. Houston’s homicide count is down from 2021, but data shows about nine people are killed each week. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was five.
If local governments aren’t funding the police, why is violent crime on the rise?
Dr. Kimberly Dodson, associate professor of criminology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, has studied the impact of defunding the police. She said part of the problem with focusing on police budgets is that the role of law enforcement is reactionary.
“They don’t really think about solving those fundamental problems,” Dodson explained. “If they were, you wouldn’t see a small budget like urban planning and health and social services. All of that falls down the list.”
Governments may not be able to transfer police funds to other agencies due to recent Texas state law
There may be a reason the city’s police budget is growing, but others aren’t, and that’s because state lawmakers won’t let them reallocate the funds.
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said that as national calls for defunding the police took place, state Republicans took action and embraced House Bill 9.
“The Republican Legislature did it as political theater as a way to attack the city and the Democratic counties,” Jones explained.
In 2021, the legislature passed a bill that penalizes major Texas cities that cut police budgets.
“Outside of the city of Austin, there was no law to stop localities from defunding police because they weren’t going to,” Jones said.
Corpus Christi is a place that spends less on policing. Four years ago, the police budget represented 8.4% of the city budget. Right now it’s only 7.4%.
In the first half of 2022, there were 21 homicides. In 2021, it was just 10. Overall, violent crime was down 5%.
Dodson said funding has been mixed. In some places it has increased crime, but in others, which prioritize funding from other agencies, Dodson said, it has worked.
“In fact, there were social workers who went through their police academy, and they graduated with the police class, and they are part of a crime prevention office,” Dodson explained.
View your neighborhood safety tracker live by the ABC13 data team.
Defunding the police hurts law enforcement, but not because of a lack of funding
Dodson said many places are unfunded, but the use of the word has impacted law enforcement. With both sides of the aisle using it this political season, it has resulted in fewer people entering the police force.
“It’s made the job of policing more difficult because police officers and law enforcement officers across the United States don’t feel appreciated,” Dodson said.
It’s an underappreciation that some Houstonians don’t understand.
“Boy, we need police,” Green said. “Everything you do, you have bad and good. Never think you are becoming all good.”
After seeing a lot of people living in the same place, Green would like very soon to see fewer flashing lights in the place he’s been living in for years.
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