HOUSTON - As Houston struggles with increasing violent crime, one city council member has turned his attention on other crimes and nuisances that might, otherwise, get lost in the shuffle.
On the campaign trail, District J Council Member Edward Pollard argued for making public safety a top priority for his constituents along the Southwest Freeway.
The result launched just before the new year, is a unique partnership between residents and police that gets those residents invested in that promise.
On a warm July morning, officers from HPD's Differential Response team, DRT for short, are out talking to residents. The officers are trained to find unique solutions to small crimes and violations.
Council Member Pollard is trying to leverage the concerns of the people he represents, with the solutions that DRT officers can offer.
"The people who live in their community are the eyes and ears, there," says Pollard.
The volunteer District J Patrol lets people report problems, through a website, like vacant or overgrown properties, junked vehicles, illegal dumping.
The list goes on for items that might not, otherwise, get much attention. Instead, each one gets funneled to the DRT officers to find a solution.
"You're always going to have to prioritize the high-crime," says Pollard. "However the lower-level, quality of life violations that you see in your neighborhood need to be addressed, too, and this is a mechanism to do that."
Funding comes from Pollard's discretionary fund. He estimates he's spent a couple hundred thousand dollars to outfit the patrol with two specially equipped Polaris ATVs and pay officers to focus on these calls.
So far, residents and volunteers say hundreds of complaints have been cleared.
"Residents have direct access to DRT teams, to communicate some of the issues and get a quicker response, and be able to tackle more of the issues that maybe weren't getting addressed right away," says District J Patrol chair Bert Ruiz.
For officers, who can't be everywhere all the time, it's an opportunity to be seen and communicate with those they serve.
"We're not out there to issue citations," says DRT officer Melissa Lopez. "We want to educate them to enhance the quality of life for the citizens."
Already, there are plans to expand the District J Patrol, with another ATV, and Council Member Pollard says other members are watching the progress and considering whether the same approach might work in their districts.