Harris County to Spend $ 50 Million to Tackle Crime Through ‘Environmental Design’

Harris County Commissioners unanimously approved an amended proposal to spend $ 50 million to fight crime by planting trees, clearing vacant lots, adding street lights and building sidewalks.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) and Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) announced the proposal at a press conference on Tuesday morning in which they acknowledged the increase in crime but avoided to mention the county controversy. bail practices.

“Across America violent crime has increased and unfortunately Harris County has not been immune to this trend,” Hidalgo said. “It’s no secret what is driving this trend in crime here and across America. This is the economic impact of COVID-19 and of course the outbreak of gun violence. ”

Hidalgo also said that since she and Garcia took office in 2019, all law enforcement budgets have increased and the county has invested in innovative programs to reduce crime.

Garcia, formerly Harris County Sheriff, said communities should be proud of where they live.

“If you want people to respect government, government has to do things for the community when they don’t expect it and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

In support of the Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods initiative, which initially included air conditioning, a report provided to commissioners cited several public policy studies, including one from the left. Niskanen Center arguing that there is “promising evidence” to control crime by providing trees, green spaces, streetlights, improving vacant lots and “reducing physical disturbance”.

Hidalgo also cited a 2019 report of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, right, saying cities can reduce the incidence of crime by reducing dilapidated vacant land.

Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) expressed support for most of the proposal, noting that the commissioners had already undertaken plans to improve the neighborhood, particularly in compound 3 where several devastated areas had been. transformed into “pocket parks”.

“It’s another one of those episodes where someone else had an idea, wrapped it up with a new bow and ribbon, but it’s something that’s been going on in Harris County for quite a while. time, ”Cagle said.

Cagle called for the removal of specific plans to provide air conditioning to residents, but approved the motion asking the county administrator to explore initiatives to “reduce the heat” in areas of the county where “gun violence concentrations” are among the highest in the county “.

Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3), whose request for 50 additional patrollers to help fight crime was dismissed as likely unaffordable earlier this year, asked about where the funding came from.

“We will be looking at a multitude of sources here,” said county administrator David Berry who suggested that since these were one-time expenses, funds could be taken from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“There is a great deal of institutional knowledge of the precinct,” said Ramsey, who noted that it takes around $ 1 million to provide street lighting for a neighborhood of 4,000 people.

Cagle suggested the program coordinate with projects already underway and invest in the county’s four constituencies, but Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct.1) objected to dividing the spending into four as he believed that the county government had historically neglected certain areas. Cagle countered that much of its compound included unincorporated areas that were solely the responsibility of the county government, while other parts of the county had overlapping services from Houston and other cities.

Initiatives that integrate “Crime Prevention by Designing the Environment” (CPTED) build on certain elements of the “Broken windowsPolicy that succeeded in reducing crime in New York City in the 1990s. graffiti, broken windows and community environmental vandalism.

Although Hidalgo attributed the county’s crime to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019 Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct.1) cited a “dizzying increase”In domestic violence and homicides as a reason for paid leave for employees who are victims of crime.

Additionally, last month District Attorney Kim Ogg submitted a report Commissioners linking the rise in crime in the county to bail reform policies adopted both formally and informally by judges and magistrates in criminal courts.

Despite the unanimous vote in favor of the Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods initiative, some observers criticized Hidalgo and Garcia for failing to address more pressing crime-related issues.

Former Commissioner Jack Morman, a Republican running to reclaim the seat of Precinct 2 in Garcia, accused the county of promoting “welfare projects” instead of more resources for the forces of the order.

“Taken individually, neighborhood improvements have merit and can improve any community. I know it, ”Morman said. “But with growing crime and unacceptable murder rates claiming new lives every day, investing resources in the men and women who stand between families and criminals is the way to go here. It’s a war. “

State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said the $ 50 million plan for “clean streets” would not prevent what he called “crime bombs” from exploding in neighborhoods County.

“Harris County Judges Must Stop Releasing Violent Criminals To The Streets Again And Again it makes our citizens dangerous, ”Bettencourt wrote on social media.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Garcia also introduced a resolution calling on the state legislature to add more District Criminal Courts for Harris County to address the backlog of more than 100,000 criminal cases.

Although the resolution was also passed unanimously, Ellis attributed the backlog to one-off events and expressed a preference for programs that would reduce the prison population.

“I think we need to be careful with the continued expansion of our justice system.”

Ellis proposed a friendly amendment calling on the state to cover all costs associated with the new county courts.

The proposal allows Berry to immediately begin exploring funding options and possible projects in collaboration with other county departments.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly indicated the enclosure number that Morman comes running. We regret the error.

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