Stop The Presses! "The Enablers" Of Our Collapsing Criminal Justice System In Houston Have Discovered We Have A Crime Problem! Now What?
After suffering with runaway crime rates including the explosive growth of murder and aggravated robbery, the architects of the jail break (aka bond reform), of the emasculating of the DA's office by refusing to support significant new prosecutors and the virtual closing of the courthouse for almost a year, recognize we have a huge problem. Please take the time to understand the facts:
- Houston Police Department (HPD) stats show homicides in the region have increased 42 percent from this time last year, and 91 percent since 2019. Some reports have suggested the city now leads the nation in rising murder rates.
- An analysis by Crime Stoppers of Houston victims' advocate Andy Kahan, who has been tracking the problem, shows there have been 127 people murdered here by suspects free on multiple felony bonds.
- The timeline of these murders tracks with the bail bond policies pushed by the leftist Democrats on the Harris County Commissioners Court and implemented by Democratic felony judges after the 2018 elections under pressure from Rodney Ellis.
- These also track with changes put into place after "bond reforms" that were part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit filed against the county's misdemeanor judges by liberal activists arranged by Democrat Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and his allies.
- As the victims continue to stack up, Kahan recently identified the 127th murder victim allegedly killed by someone free on bond as Tevin Watson, 29, who was fatally shot during a home invasion robbery while he was with his two children.
- One of the two suspects arrested and charged in the case, Qiriathiam Phillips, was free on SEVEN felony bonds at the time of the murder of Watson, according to news reports.
- The increasing crime rates and corresponding murder rates have done little to move or impress Ellis, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, or Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who claims to lean heavily on his own background in law enforcement as Sheriff and a former HPD officer, while at the same time supporting the misguided lenient measures being pushed by his leftist colleagues. One wonders, did he not learn anything?
- When the murder numbers come up in discussions, Hidalgo criticizes those who mention them and accuse them of "cherry picking cases" to stir up publicity.
- Ellis and Garcia are equally derisive and opt to look down at their phones instead of listening when crime victims speak to Commissioners Court.
- Ellis' henchman in the legal system, the liberal Alex Bunin, Harris County Public Defender, even argued to Commissioners Court with a straight face that crime is not going up and that those opposed to bail reform are simply basing their claims on "anecdotes." Weird way to describe crime victims.
- The leftist Democrats on Commissioners Court also dismiss any plan to strengthen enforcement in the community and, when putting more officers on the street is discussed, as proposed by Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, Dems lash out. They send such ideas off to languish in the arms of a new county administrator they control.
- Hidalgo said she worried more officers would lead to "mass incarcerations." Ellis said all problems with backlog would be solved by eliminating cash bond.
- The leftists on Commissioners Court (CC) and their media allies on the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board strongly dislike discussing real crime statistics or hearing from victims and taxpayers terrified by the conditions as they now exist.
- They have taken two tracks on this issue, (1) They are peddling a small and ineffective package of spending to relieve a massive criminal court backlog they blame for crime they are reluctant to acknowledge, and (2) they are undermining prosecutors and law enforcement at the same time.
- The package aimed at the court backlog, estimated to be anywhere from 100,000 to 140,000 cases, was created by damage sustained by court facilities during Hurricane Harvey, lengthy and ongoing repairs and pandemic measures which slowed court and trial operations starting last year. The backlog was an estimated 38,000 pre-Harvey.
- To fight this, CC leftists are spending $14.8 million on what they say are tech fixes for the courts and other money on emergency dockets, visiting judges and associate judges to hear more cases.
- CC leftists also reference $3 million spent on overtime in the Sheriff's Department that Garcia and other Dems are reluctant to expand or share with other county law enforcement agencies.
- Garcia and Sheriff Ed Gonzales are allies and Garcia favors a power grab by the HCSO over supporting all law enforcement agencies, like elected constables.
- Though some overtime for prosecutors has been approved, the so-called court expansion efforts could mean very little without a corresponding increase in prosecutors, which has been requested by District Attorney Kim Ogg for years, dismissed, rejected, and criticized by CC leftists and relegated to yet more study.
- The simple case for more prosecutors is elementary, more defendants and a backlog create a greater need for more prosecutors to handle and process these cases, especially when more judicial resources are being poured into the system.
- At the same time, CC leftists have dismissed efforts to put more officers on the front lines, scuttled attempts to express support for state legislation aimed at making risk a priority when bonds are set and turned their attacks on leaders in Austin who look at Houston's rising crime and murder rates with alarm.
- For example, at the CC meeting July 20th, Ramsey brought forth a resolution to support proposed state laws to tighten restrictions on bonds for those accused of multiple charges, measures that would increase community safety and are backed by law enforcement.
- Instead, CC leftists led by Garcia rewrote the resolution and turned it into an attack on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for open carry in Texas and accused him of putting guns in the hands of criminals.
- The Garcia-authored resolution then went on to dismiss the notion of a "bond pandemic," attributed rising crime to the global pandemic, and said blaming how Dem judges set bonds is not to blame and is an "oversimplification."
- While people are dying, Garcia's substitute resolution criticized the legislative agenda set by Austin leaders and said they had no place in the affairs of local officials. (Harris County is an arm of state government.) Garcia said state leaders should focus their efforts on "real solutions" and argued bond reform is not needed in favor of victims.
- Against the backdrop of all this, CC leftists vehemently deny they are "defunding police," but that is exactly what they have done.
- The CC leftists grabbed $130 to $140 million of rollover funds, $40 to $50 million from the coffers of law enforcement or court-related departments (a practice that allowed departments to keep unspent funds to encourage saving to taxpayers, lower property tax rates, and to help defray rises in operational costs) and took those funds away from enforcement and prosecution efforts while keeping their own rollover funds intact.
- CC Dems "say" that the raiding of the funds does not constitute defunding of police, but they are in fact taking resources away from law enforcement, specifically the Constable's offices. They point to increases in law enforcement, but do not tell the public that those increases were not related to operations, but instead were to cover things like increased employee insurance costs.
Remember that these are the people that did a sweetheart deal on misdemeanor bond liberalization going far beyond what any federal court would have ordered. How? By getting rid of all opposition coming from law enforcement and in the District Attorney's office by objecting to their standing. This crew was next preparing to do the same thing in felonies in the Russell v. Texas suit until the State of Texas intervened at the behest of State Senator Paul Bettencourt and others. That stopped the "deal" being put together by Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia that would in essence, empty the county jail allegedly due to the Covid-19 threat, resulting in a crime wave like Harris County has never seen.
So let's be honest, they created the problem and our only daily newspaper abdicated its responsibility to the community with its often inaccurate breathless support and inaccurate reporting editorializing.
Until mid-July 2021 Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia and the Chronicle all conceded we have a huge problem. Their solution to the massive backlogs of cases in our system, with people on bond waiting to be dealt with, add a handful of "temporary" prosecutors. The problem is again, they created it.
Lina Hidalgo basically shut the courthouse well over a year ago and kept Harris County at the highest level of Covid restrictions well past the sell date. She and her compadres, Ellis and Garcia, turned down Democratic DA Kim Ogg's yearly budget requests for more prosecutors and support staff, while at the same time funding a massive increase in the Public Defender's Office (PDO).
The problem here is case load. The PDO attorneys have an average case load of under 100 per year and the average felony prosecutor well over 1,500 cases. The average PDO attorney is paid more than the average prosecutor. Something doesn't make sense. Clearly the DA's office is grossly understaffed. Compared to Chicago (Cook County), a county of similar size with over 700 prosecutors, Harris County has around 367!
The Assistant DA's need time to review and evaluate cases, but given the ridiculous number of cases per ADA, they are essentially engaged in triage.
The idea of some misguided reformers and the Houston Chronicle is "a more aggressive approach of dismissing all non-violent felony cases older than 9 months..." is essentially decriminalizing crime. They forget the legislature writes our penal laws. This stupid idea reflects the leftist agenda as seen in Dallas County and California which is to not file cases for shoplifting under $900 and that results in massive increases in shoplifting.
Let's be clear, those responsible for our plight should not be looked to for answers. There has been a massive failure of political leadership by these radical left-wing Commissioner's Court members, Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia.
To solve our problems in criminal justice, they all need to be replaced by new leaders who put public safety first, not last. Our community is desperate for quality candidates to step up and replace them in the Democratic primary and/or in the general election of 2022.
To fail means Harris County will continue its overall decline due to awful politicians who just don't care.