West Houston residents complain about crime, shortage of officers

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Chronicle neighborhood reporter Carissa D. Lamkahouan reports on a West Houston meeting on (what else) surging crime:

[A]bout 160 … west Houston residents had a chance to air their frustrations about area crime at a meeting Monday night with city officials.

District G City Councilwoman Pam Holm, Houston Police Department Assistant Chief John Trevino and Capt. Richard Gerstner were on hand to respond to the concerns.

Many in attendance said they are angry about what they perceive as a lack of law enforcement officers at a time when crime in their area is on the rise, a problem they mainly attribute to Hurricane Katrina victims who fled to Houston when New Orleans was flooded nearly a year ago.

Holm said there were not enough police officers to handle the crime, but said she has no authority when it comes to how many officers are on the beat.

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She said that decision falls to Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt.

“I don’t have the power that some of you must think I have. I can’t walk up to the mayor and say we need our fair allocation,” she said, earning jeers from the audience.

Several people said they were surprised White and Hurtt have not allocated more officers to the Westside Command Center, which employs approximately 435 officers.

“We need to force the mayor and his police chief to take care of it,” said Larry Pound, who lives in Walnut Bend. “Our lives are changing in front of us.”

Trevino attempted to explain the challenges the police department is facing. He told residents that, because the department is in the process of recovering from the loss of about 700 officers in the last four years, police assigned to other areas of town would not be transferred to west Houston.

“The lack of staffing is not just in west Houston, but throughout the city,” Trevino said. “We’re not going to steal from Peter to pay Paul.”

Trevino’s comment isn’t very reassuring for those who live in West Houston. In light of skyrocketing crime around the city and responses like that, it should not be difficult to understand why neighborhoods are considering their own police forces.

As this story illustrates, people are beginning to tie the inability to get a grip on surging crime (or even adequately to boost HPD staffing) to both Mayor White and his handpicked police chief. That can’t be good for a mayor who many people think has ambitions of eventually running for even higher office.


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