HOUSTON - As violent crime continues to plague our community, Harris County leaders are launching several initiatives hoping to make our streets safer.
Harris County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis met with FOX 26 in the Sunnyside neighborhood to discuss the complicated issue of how to tackle and reduce violent crime.
Ellis grew up in Sunnyside; his family still lives there.
"You look at the stats and Sunnyside is considered one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in the country," Ellis said.
Harris County recently announced two pilot programs in Sunnyside: violence interruption and the responder program. Both programs aim at reducing crime using a holistic approach.
"We’re looking at it from a public health perspective. We’re looking at root causes of what can lead to crime, either root causes of what makes somebody a victim or perpetrator of the crime. We’re coming in with a comprehensive model. We’re trying to leave no stone unturned," said Lupe Washington, the Division Director for Community Health and Violence Prevention at Harris County Public Health.
"With the commissioner's court that’s here now, we’ve invested $100-million into traditional issues. But at some point, you come to the realization if it was just doing the traditional things to solve a crime challenge, surely, we would’ve solved it by now," Ellis said.
Ellis said the programs looked at research from other major cities, hoping to mirror certain methods proven effective.
"Do you need law enforcement? Is it an issue that involves violence or is it an issue where maybe you need a mental health counselor? Maybe you need something else so we can have law enforcement focus on issues where there is violent crime," Ellis said.
While crime is a complicated issue to address, Ellis believes the number one contributing factor to a record high number of violence is obvious in the Lone Star state.
"Easy access to a gun. And in our state, primarily guns are really weapons of mass destruction. There have been changes on the state level that make it so easy for everyone to get access to a gun," Ellis said.
Those who disagree, argue that some of these soft approaches aren't enough. Instead, critics believe the root cause traces back to criminal court judges who repeatedly grant felony offenders bond.
"I’m not convinced we can just go and accuse those judges. Are there cases where a judge has made a mistake? Sure. Are there cases where law enforcement makes a mistake? Sure. I think what we ought to do is look at the totality of the system. In terms of the problem, look at guns and the easy access to them. Look at the mental health issue. Look at the pre-trial services is working as quickly as it should, but I don’t think we get out of it by just pointing those fingers at one another.
"We ought to do what they do on the federal level. On the federal level, if you’re charged with a crime, if you are a danger to yourself or society, you stay in jail," Ellis said.
Ellis adds that Harris County will invest more money into neighborhoods like Sunnyside to pick up trash, add more street lighting, and address abandoned properties.