The state has repeatedly accused Harris County of “defunding” the police. A new report shows that homicide rate has dropped in Houston by 22 percent, more than double the national decline.
Following the protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 lockdowns, homicides rose nationwide. They have been coming down in recent years, including a 9.4 percent drop in 2023 according to the Council on Criminal Justice.
Houston police reported 339 homicides in the city as of December 18, down from 425 over the same period in 2022. That’s a 22 percent drop. The exact reasons why will likely not be clear for some years, but it’s a marked improvement over the country overall.
The Floyd murder sparked a national movement against police brutality, including the phrase “defund the police.” Conservatives warned of widespread crime waves and piles of dead bodies, especially in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott repeatedly fought policies in Houston and Harris County like bail reform, focusing on isolated incidences to prove that harsh bail tactics were needed to stop a mob of murderers walking the street.
In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed a law banning the reduction of police funding without a public vote. In 2022, the Harris County budget for Harris County Constable Ted Heap’s office claimed it was reduced by $2.3 million. The office didn’t actually receive less money but was instead the victim of a change in budget scheduling. Nonetheless, Heap complained to the governor’s office, who launched a vicious investigation.
“The dangerous actions taken by Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County represent a brazen disregard for the safety and security of the Texans they are sworn to protect,” said Abbott in a statement. “The loss of millions of dollars in funding will endanger public safety across the county at a time when Texas law enforcement is working harder than ever to keep criminals and dangerous drugs out of our communities. Harris County continues to show complete negligence for public safety, as the same county whose revolving door bail program releases dangerous criminals back onto the streets to commit more violent crimes like murder. While Harris County politicizes the public safety of its citizens, the State of Texas will ensure our brave law enforcement partners have the resources necessary for this solemn responsibility.”
Ultimately, the state backed off when it became clear that Heap’s office was not actually receiving less money. In fact, no law enforcement agency in Houston saw a reduction in funds over the last three years. There is zero evidence that funding changes of any kind impacted the homicide rate, a fact borne out by studies.
Painting Houston as a crime-riddled hellhole run by corrupt and incompetent Democrats has been a primary method of attack for Texas Republicans, Abbott specifically, who has often sparred politically with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Despite accusations, the murder rate in the city has fallen dramatically, no matter how often officials accuse the city of “defunding” the police.