HPD to assign two squads to state’s anti-gang effort

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Despite refuting Abbott’s statements on crime, Acevedo welcomes initiative

Published 8:27 pm, Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The absence of the Houston Police Department and sheriff’s office was glaring during a Monday morning news conference where Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to ramp up anti-gang initiatives in Harris County.

But HPD officials confirmed on Wednesday that it is in fact assigning two squads to the initiatives despite the governor’s omission explaining just how local law enforcement would fit into the state’s efforts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Police Chief Art Acevedo declined to speak on the governor’s motives or why they were excluded but simply chalked it up to a minor oversight.

The governor’s office said it was simply a matter of wanting to focus on the state and federal aspect of the effort.

However, during the Monday news conference Abbott and DPS director Steve McCraw made sweeping statements about Houston and Harris County.

They mentioned residents living here illegally fuel violent crime, that violent crime is “increasing at an alarming rate” and “residents are living in constant fear” – sentiments HPD and Turner refute.

Acevedo said crime is not increasing and has remained relatively flat for the past five years.

The police chief did not comment on why the governor would make such statements but said it goes against the data his department has collected.

Turner not only agreed with Acevedo, but warned he would not tolerate such inaccurate narratives about the city.

“I don’t want you coming to the city of Houston and knocking this city. I’m not going to accept that from anyone,” he said. “I appreciate the governor’s concern, but we will do our very best to protect the citizenry, and I applaud HPD, Chief Acevedo for what they’re doing.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett also said Abbott’s visit and statements were startling.

Emmett said he called Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who said he was not notified of Abbott’s new initiative.

Emmett said the county, like the city, already has an active task force to fight gang violence.

He added that while the county does have crime, the idea that there was a “burgeoning problem” in the region came as a surprise.

Still, HPD will provide two new squads to assist in what local officials are calling a welcomed effort.

Details are still being worked out, but the squads will focus on gang violence and violence perpetuated by documented gang members, Acevedo said.

In addition to the two squads, the state will deploy Texas Rangers and DPS special agents to support local law enforcement in Houston.

Abbott’s office also will provide $500,000 in new funding from the governor’s criminal justice division to increase Texas Anti-Gang Center resources in the Houston area.

The FBI also will provide additional personnel.

Abbott said he was inspired to act based on a series of violent headlines out of Houston since January.

“This recent wave of senseless violence cannot continue,” he said.

Acevedo agreed with Abbott in that Houston and Harris County are constantly facing ongoing challenges, noting that the partnership with the state is not new and only a part of an evolving collaboration.

“I don’t think the sky is falling, but there is plenty of crime to go around in the city of Houston,” Acevedo said. “And in a time of limited resources, partnerships are important.”

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