Harris Co. launches $50 million plan to battle rising crime

Amid an ongoing wave of violence and lawbreaking, Harris County Commissioners have agreed to bankroll a new crime-fighting strategy that doesn't involve putting more police on patrol.

"Too often blighted buildings, dark streets unsafe and abandoned structures serve as incubators of crime and of gun violence," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

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Hidalgo calls it the "Clean Streets Safe Neighborhoods Initiative," a $50 million plan to improve safety through "environmental design" or more simply, adding street lights, sidewalks, and trees while removing derelict structures and overgrown lots in areas hit hardest by the crime wave.

"When decay isn't addressed, it perpetuates, it projects an environment of disrepair. It helps create the impression that these are areas where crime can operate with impunity," said Hidalgo.

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Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia calls the plan an opportunity to revitalize neighborhoods without "gentrifying them."

"Making sure communities can be proud of where they live, feeling safe and secure where they live," said Garcia.

While Republicans on Commissioner's Court went along with the proposal, others seeking to dislodge Hidalgo and Garcia in the 2022 election say the measure fails to deliver what's really needed to improve safety sooner rather than later.

"The main thing is, we catch the violent criminal and then we are releasing him or releasing her. Why are we doing that?" said Martina Lemond Dixon, a Republican candidate for County Judge.

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"Boots in the street, that's the only way we are going to get a handle on the crime epidemic facing our community. At the County, we are facing a federal lawsuit over at the jail precisely because of staffing shortages. So if you want to spend $50 million maybe start there where we have pending federal litigation," said Jack Morman, a Republican Candidate for County Commissioner Precinct 2.

Facing an estimated 15-year case backlog, commissioners also voted to ask the Texas Legislature to grant Harris County a total of three new criminal courts.

Houston State Representative Ann Johnson filed a bill to add that request to the ongoing special legislative session.