What makes a city dangerous? What makes it safe?

Obviously, the amount of crime is a key factor, but is safety simply having a low crime rate?  How does the police department’s presence or lack thereof influence public safety?  Does it make a tangible difference?  The answer is difficult to quantify, but it’s probably a combination of both – along with dozens of other factors.

We aimed to find the safest and most dangerous cities in Texas ( with populations over 100,000) by looking at three key factors:

  • Crime
  • Police Presence
  • Community Socioeconomic factors.

Detailed Findings – Crime

Crime and Public Safety

In 2019, more than 805,879 crimes were committed in the state of Texas. That’s to 2,779 crimes for every 100,000 people, and includes everything from petty theft to murder.

While being a victim of any crime is enough to make one feel unsafe, violent crimes have a much more profound impact on public safety in a city than do property crimes or drug crimes. A violent crime is a crime in which an offender uses or threatens force upon a victim.

According to the FBI, four main offenses are considered violent crimes:  murder and non-negligent manslaughter (or homicide), rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

It may be no surprise that of all the Texas cities, Houston has both the highest raw number and rate of violent crime.  However, Houston does not have the highest murder rate – which belongs to nearby Beaumont – and is in the bottom third for rate of rape – top spot here goes to Amarillo by a substantial margin.

2019 Texas Crime Statistics

  • In 2019, there were 4,838 assaults on police officers during 2019, a 4.8% increase from 2018. Nine
    Texas law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty and five died in duty-related vehicle
    crashes
  • There were 1,403 murders, a 6.0% increase from 2018
  • There were 14,656 reported rapes, down 1.6% from 2018
  • Overall, statewide violent crime rate and volume increased by 0.50% and 1.1% respectively in
    2019
  • Crime occurrences peaked in the month of July, with a total of
    73,154 index crimes.
  • Many law enforcement agencies in Texas experienced decreases in violent crime;
    however, the state’s four largest cities ( Austin, Dallas, Houston
    and San Antonio) saw increases in the rate and volume of crime
  • The San Antonio PD saw the greatest increase in violent crimes: +14.5%

In an effort to curb gang-related violence, the State of Texas has established seven Texas Anti-Gang Centers across the state. This works as part of Governor Abbott’s public safety strategy to combine the shared capabilities and expertise of local, state, and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies into a unified effort to detect, interdict, and prosecute gangs that pose as a threat to Texans.

Detailed Findings – Police and Community

Investment In Policing

Earmarking more resources for the police department does not necessarily ensure lower crime rates and thus make cities safer.  However, a study of 239 cities found that nearly all of the ten cities with the heaviest investment in policing saw a drop in either violent crime, property crime or both.

What’s more, according to the Department of Justice, as cities across the nation slashed police department budgets several things have happened:

  • Many police departments have stopped responding to all motor vehicle thefts, burglary alarms, and non-injury motor vehicle accidents.
  • Investigations of property crimes, fugitive tracking, a variety of white collar crimes have decreased.
  • Many agencies have greatly reduced training opportunities for their officers. As we’ve seen in many recent cases of police interaction, a lack of police training can have a significant impact on public safety.  

Recruitment for new police officers is down as well in most cities across Texas, which may not bode well for improving public safety. Rampant budget cuts play a huge factor in not only bringing on new police officers, but keeping the ones they already have.

Due to the low starting pay and dangerous nature of the work, the city of Houston has resorted to offering a $5,000 incentive just to join the force.  However, financial incentives aren’t a reality for most cities, and one Texas town even cut the police department from their budget altogether, although it has since returned. These occur on a federal level too, as $1.2 billion in funding was recently cut from the Budget Bill.

Community Socioeconomic Factors and their effect on Crime

Poverty

Perhaps more than any other socioeconomic factor, poverty has a significant impact on crime and therefore safety.  Countless studies have linked the two and regression analysis has shown a significant linear relationship between them, a very strong indicator that where there is more poverty there will be more crime.

  • Fifty-three percent of people in prison earned less than $10,000 per year before incarceration
  • Lower-income youth commit four times more violent crimes than middle-class youth.

Poverty affects more than just those committing the crime.  Victimization rates among lower income groups are significantly higher as well. Those in households at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) have violent crime victimization rates of over double those of higher income households AND are nearly three times as likely to be the victim of a gun crime.

Unemployment

One might argue that unemployment has a lot to do with an area’s poverty rate – and our study found that to more or less be the case.  Texas cities with high unemployment rates generally have higher rates of poverty.

However, when studied on its own, unemployment rates do correlate with higher crime.  One national study found that a 1% increase in unemployment rate increases property crime by 71.13 per 100,000 inhabitants and violent crime by 31.87 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Education

The fact is that schooling significantly reduces criminal activity.  Several studies have linked lower educational attainment with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.

According to the Justice Policy Institute, nine out of the 10 states with the highest percentage of population who had attained a high school diploma or above were found to have lower violent crime rates than the national average, compared to just four of the 10 states with the lowest educational attainment per population.

Just how much could raising high school graduation rates affect public safety?

  • one-year increase in average years of schooling reduces murder and assault by almost 30%, motor vehicle theft by 20%, arson by 13% and burglary and larceny by about 6%.
  • 1% increase in high school completion rate among men age 20-60 would save the United States $1.4 billion per year in reduced costs from crime incurred by victims and society at large.

Data Sources

Crime data was sourced from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. 

Police Force officer and budget data was gathered from each city’s police department website.

Demographic information was gathered from the U.S. Bureau  of Labor Statistics and Area Vibes.

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