Wall: Dear Mayor Whitmire (Crime and public safety edition)

Image credit: Pixabay

by Jay Wall

Congratulations Mayor Whitmire on your first 90 (or so) days in office!

You’ve already started the triage on many inherited problems, but it may be worth a reminder that you ran on (and were elected because of, I’d argue) a platform of making Houston a safer place to live: more HPD cadet classes, greater cooperation among the dozens of area law-enforcement agencies, asking Governor Abbott for 200 DPS troopers to assist HPD with traffic enforcement (among other things), and consequently… quicker police response times across the board.

Hope, she springs eternal. New classes to fill HPD’s depleted ranks will take years to complete; getting dozens of law enforcement agencies with different training, different missions, different reporting, etc., will take a Herculean effort, and many months, to coordinate; DPS troopers, perhaps not as difficult, but most likely temporary.

State of the public space: Not good

In the meantime, the best neighborhoods are marred by graffiti; “squeegee men/women” and other associated cupholders prey on motorists at almost every major intersection; our public spaces (parks, underpasses) are filled with vagrants; public urination and defecation are ubiquitous; drug dealing profligate; public intoxication rife; the bass beat of loud music beat pulses incessantly, though occasionally disrupted by gunshots; and motorcycle/auto racing and street takeovers rage on well into the morning hours. “Broken Windows” all.

And what Houstonian doesn’t know someone who’s had their home, business, or car burgled or their catalytic converter stolen – only to be given a number to file with insurance (best case) while  a secret internal code is used to file the case into the equivalent of a trash can.

Excuses as to the cause of our current crime explosion abound: COVID caused layoffs/school closures, economic inequality, demographic trends, changing drug-use patterns, etc. Above my pay grade. Doesn’t matter!

What I do know is that some of our problem addressing our crime explosion is related to Hurricane Harvey forcing the closure of the jury assembly room, the criminal courthouse, and the District Attorney’s offices, which was then compounded by COVID closures.  Judge Lina Hidalgo’s overly aggressive COVID threat level management further exacerbated the criminal justice system’s backlog.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s implementation of a state-of-the-art case management system enabled her office to somewhat manage virtually, but she obviously struggled (and will be replaced). She fired many experienced prosecutors at the start of her term, and has since faced resistance by Commissioners Court, specifically Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, to hire replacements. All have slowed the delivery of justice in Houston/Harris County.

Throw into this mix of too few prosecutors, juries, and courtrooms a relatively new judiciary, largely committed to the ideological mantra of “decarceration” – and you have our current situation in which most Harris County offenders (whether misdemeanants or felons) are “caught and released.”

What can Houston’s mayor do? Start with the bully pulpit and your connections…

Your inauguration speech showed that you are willing to use the bully pulpit to hold our elected judiciary to account for their backlogged dockets, loose bail policies, and failures to move people through or out of the system.

I would urge you to further utilize your bully pulpit to get our judges to specifically tighten up on releasing felons caught with guns in their possession. Use your connections to get the feds to help if you can. They have the court capacity and can slap five-year sentences on these dangerous individuals, who must then serve at least 85% of their sentences in federal prison.

Suggest the probation department better coordinate with the DA so that non-reporting, supposed ankle-bracelet-wearing bailees/probationers can be timely identified, arrested, tried, and sent to prison.

Request additional help from the State of Texas in opening yet more criminal courts. Long term, we need a Criminal Justice Center that doesn’t flood, doesn’t have terrorist target parking underneath, and doesn’t rely on elevators for vertical transportation, which doesn’t work in a courthouse. 800 Bell ain’t the answer. You’re well placed to drive the solution.

Today we need to think about getting even more retired judges to sit as visiting judges. RELIANT worked temporarily for a jury assembly room; suggest that the county utilize it as an adjunct until the system is unclogged, rather than maintain the status quo which necessitates a four-to-six-year wait for a jury trial in a murder case (during which time memories fade, witnesses disappear, cops retire, more murders are committed, etc).

As you mentioned during your inauguration, hundreds of alleged capital murderers are out on bond. Some of these “alleged” offenders are out on multiple bonds. Many of these “alleged” offenders should be in jail – and could be detained in the interest of public safety under the 1987 Supreme Court decision US vs. Salerno even though their cases haven’t been adjudicated. DEMAND THEY BE LOCKED UP!

… then shake up the management model at HPD

Longer term, HPD needs a paradigm change. Out with the 1960s metrics of judging success by response times to 911 calls and requests for service, which are totally reactive measures. Focus on crime rates. Lower crime rates should be the measure of success and crime data the tool for proactive crime reduction. HPD needs a re-engineering top-to-bottom. By empowering and transforming management through the imposition of accountability systems, we can truly “take a bite outta crime.” Reductions of 30-40% are easy to foresee in 12-24 months’ time, using current manpower.

Enforce the law. Insist that HPD write tickets for moving violations (and whatever else is found after the stop). Criminals often don’t properly register or insure their vehicles – ticket them, tow them, make them comply.  Seize the unlicensed, unlawful ATVs and dirt bikes that run up and down Richmond and Westheimer any weekend afternoon. And be visible! Long street takeovers, out of compliance with city ordinance political protests, are embarrassing, and should never happen in a well-run city.

Policing is a science, like geophysics is a science, neurology is a science, metallurgy is a science. We need police scientists who are adherents of the Crime Control or COMPSTAT school of policing to assist us. The “broken windows’ truth” is that petty offenders and hard-core violent offenders are often one and the same people. Empower law enforcement to take back the city from them.

We need to timely produce and process accurate intelligence to identify emerging patterns of crime and quality-of-life problems, swiftly deploy personnel and other resources to bring a comprehensive array of effective tactics to bear on the problems, and relentlessly follow up and assess results to ensure that the problem is truly solved. COMPSTAT can and will bring accountability to HPD. It would empower HPD’s middle management and allow the cream of both its managerial and front-line forces to rise to the top.

It’s a paradigm shift that has been needed for decades. You, Mayor Whitmire, are uniquely suited to establish buy-in and reap the reward: a safer city for all, finally.

J.W. ”Jay” Wall is a real estate broker, specializing in tenant representation, who has a lifelong interest in criminal justice and public safety.


  1. Insightful diagnosis of problems and well thought out solutions.
    You have delivered a public service to the City of Houston.

  2. Completely agree, the city needs to get tougher on crime. I’m sick of seeing the street takeovers, ATVs and motorcycles running down Richmond/Westheimer, and violent offenders getting out on bail. However,petty offenders and violent offenders are not one and the same.

    I’m not sure what crime statistics you pulled that out of your [REDACTED. Don’t pull that again on this site -Editor] from.

    Whitmire can make a difference, but that difference isn’t slapping some 17 year old pot smoking kid with a ticket when you pull him over for registration.

  3. Well said Jay. You have you finger on the pulse of Houston’s problems and Mayor Whitmire appears to be the man to make changes.

  4. Jay, impressive analysis of the challenges faced and the steps needed to address them. Extremely thoughtful and comprehensive suggestions to make Houston a safer city. Think you may have a second calling.

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