Violent crime rise not just a Houston problemThe NY Times had an interesting article today detailing the rise in violent crime across many major cities, not just Houston - cities like Boston, Philly, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Phoenix (don't miss the comparative graph). It seems the primary cause is extremely difficult for police to counter: people are simply escalating arguments very rapidly until they shoot someone.
And the paragraph on Houston:
And while such crime in the 1990's was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire or stabbings.
Suspects tell the police they killed someone who "disrespected" them or a family member, or someone who was "mean mugging" them, which the police loosely translate as giving a dirty look. And more weapons are on the streets, giving people a way to act on their anger.
Police Chief Nannette H. Hegerty of Milwaukee calls it "the rage thing."
"We're seeing a very angry population, and they don't go to fists anymore, they go right to guns," she said. "A police department can have an effect on drugs or gangs. But two people arguing in a home, how does the police department go in and stop that?"
While arguments have always made up a large number of homicides, the police say the trigger point now comes faster.
"Traditionally, you could see the beef growing and maybe hitting the volatile point," said Daniel Coleman, the commander of the homicide unit in Boston. "Now we see these things, they're flashes, they're very unpredictable. Even five years ago, in what started as a fight or dispute, maybe you'd have a knife shown. Now it's an automatic default to a firearm."
In Houston, where homicides rose 24 percent last year, disputes were by far the largest category, 113 out of 336 killings. Officials were alarmed by the increase in murders well before Hurricane Katrina swelled the city's population by 150,000 people in September; the police say 18 homicides were related to evacuees.Getting to the root psychology:
Chief Corwin of Kansas City said that in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, people had explained it as a "lack of hope." "If I don't have skills, I don't have training, my socioeconomic situation looks desperate, do I really have hope?" he said. "I think that ties into the anger. If the only thing I have is my respect, that's what I carry on the street. If someone disrespects me, they've done the ultimate to me."And the small piece of good news for law-abiding citizens:
"It's hard for people to look at it in depth and understand that they're not likely to be a victim if they get along with their family members and neighbors and don't live a high-risk lifestyle," said Darrel Stephens, the police chief in Charlotte.Bottom line: HPD might be able to curtail some of the recent spike due to NOLA gangs, but there is another component that will be much harder - if not impossible - to alleviate.