'Texans love firearms': HPD says gun safety is main focus

Houston's crime rate has increased at an alarming rate. Hear HPD Chief Acevedo's three main focuses this year to help protect the city.

Video Transcript

- Good morning. I'm Regina Woelfel, deputy director of Public Affairs. And on behalf of the Department, we thank you for being here with us today. This year marks the 37th annual March on Crime campaign. And during this time last March, our biggest concerns were the rising homicide rates, and aggravated assaults, and DWIs. And then COVID hit with an increased level of criminal activity, like road rage, and domestic abuse cases.

And just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, we were struck last week by an artic blast that wreaked havoc and provided crimes of opportunities for crooks. while homes and businesses experienced widespread power outages, a water crisis, and a food shortage. Today, Chief Acevedo will highlight some of the crime initiatives that HUPD has implemented over the last year. The outcome of those efforts and the impact of relational policing in Houston.

And before we have our special proclamation presentation, I would like to recognize several dignitaries that have joined us today, who have taken time out from their busy schedules this past weekend of distributing water and food to their constituents. And those that have joined us are council members Sally Alcorn, and Tarsia Jackson and I think, shortly, we'll be joined by Leticia Plummer and Carolyn Evans. And at this time I'd like to ask Councilwoman Sally Alcorn if she would come up and present the proclamation to the chief and followed by his remarks.

- Thank you very much. I'm Sally Alcorn, at-large representative, position one. I was at this, position 5, sorry. I was at this event last year, Chief, right before COVID. I mean, the world was still the world. So I just want to give a big shout out to all of HPD. All your hard work through COVID. The rise in crime. Everything you've done during this past week, just unbelievable. Rode up in the elevator with somebody slept at the center all last week. I know many of you did. Thank you for everything you're doing. So I'm happy to read this proclamation to get this March on Crime week kicked off.

The March on Crime program was created in December 1984 by Mr Don Rosette, out of the growing concern over violent crimes being committed in the Black community. The campaign's first year achieved much success and a similar program for the Hispanic community, Lucha Contra el Crimen, began in 1986. The programs were combined in 1991 and open to all citizens of Houston. March on Crime, Luchá Contra él Crimen, is designed to disseminate crime prevention information through both electronic and printed media, as well as teaching those within the community new strategies to reduce crime in their neighborhoods.

In 2021 March on Crime, Luché Contra él Crimen continues to focus on education of the public on crime and crime prevention in their communities. And reinforce the Keep Houston Safe public safety campaign. Officers throughout Houston reach out to local businesses, schools, and communities to continue crime prevention and the implementation of crime prevention efforts aimed at the elimination of criminal incidents.

The City of Houston commends March on Crime/Luche Contra él Crimen for its tireless work throughout local communities to inform citizens about crime prevention and its effort to reduce criminal activity. Therefore, I, Sally Alcorn, on behalf of Sylvester Turner, mayor of the City of Houston hereby proclaim March 20, 2021 as March on Crime/Lucha Contra él Crimen Month in Houston, Texas. Yay!

- Let's take a picture of you. Get the picture for us.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

- All right, good morning. Thank you council members. Thank you both for being here this morning. It's interesting that we live in a city that, the country's fourth largest city-- shouldn't it be the third largest city, most diverse city. And I can tell you that we love working with the Mayor and council. You are just phenomenal. I think that you're in touch with the needs and the priorities of our community. And you understand our community because you care about our community. Take time to care about our community.

So thank you, and thank you to the officers and leadership candidates up here. I'm not going to go over the history of él Crimen, because they just did it, and I don't want to repeat what was already said in the proclamation. But we know that this year has been a tough year. It's been a tough year for our country. It's been a tough year for the free world. And we know that the past year has just been a tough year for our community.

I tweeted this week and I was with my little boy Jake, who's 12 years old. And I made him work because he's been stuck at home. I mean, I feel so badly for our children with COVID. A lot of them can't go to school, and let's face it they don't have that interaction that's so badly needed. So I made him go to work with me for a while. We went to our appreciation day for our city's police Academy at the Academy.

And I want to thank you for putting it together, Officer Berg. The great thing about what was happening is, we're driving up, and we were taking the connector road from the Harvey Toll road-- Hardy Tollway to the 6-10 freeway. He had been with me for a few hours that morning. For about four hours, and I said I want to give him a break, it's enough.

And he said, Dad, I love our skyline. You know, how you can see that from downtown? And I said, yeah I do too. And he said, I really love living here in Houston. I said, really? And I said, why? You have to have grit to live in Houston. You have to be tough. You have to be able to persevere. He's not talking about himself because he's blessed to be in good circumstances. He's talking about our community.

This is a working class community. This is a working community. And this is a community that has gone from challenge, to challenge, to challenge. A lot of it's natural, by mother nature that is impacted by the decisions of man. And societal decisions, that we know with Harvey and every other storm we've had to come out here. Now, this pandemic and now this freeze.

But the other piece is crime. Unfortunately, the pandemic has had a impact on crime and on the psyche of the American people across the nation. This is nothing unique to Houston. We have seen violent crime spike. And this year, what we want to focus on is three areas that we believe are really going to be important and impact the collective safety of Houstonians.

One is road rage. And I consider street takeovers part of this road rage incident, where we saw shots fired at us take over. And I want to say, I'm very happy that we've put together, to deal with the road rage and the street takeovers. Our own team with our Traffic Enforcement Division that is doing a phenomenal job. Just this weekend, I know they had five vehicles that were racing. We pursued three of them. And we pursued them, and three of them went to jail. They were actually caught. I don't know if all of you guys saw that. Unfortunately, one was an NFL player out of the Raiders team. The place where the Raiders in Las Vegas.

But they all went to jail. The reason that we want to put a stop to that is because death is final regardless of how you get there. Whether it's through road rage or through a traffic crash resulting from people racing and acting a fool on the streets. You can't get that life back. And so we are going to continue to focus on it with our own Traffic Enforcement Division Task Force and our multiagency Task Force that we have established with our friends at the Department of Public Safety, the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

Some of our constables are actually participating in it and obviously the Houston Police Department. Those task forces will continue throughout the year. And we believe we're going to have an impact. These people that engage in this activity love their cars. They spend a lot of money on their cars and guess what? We are seizing cars and they're forfeiting cars. So that's one of the things you can anticipate if you get caught engaged in this activity. The second piece is jail. We are going to take you to jail. You're not going to pass go. You're not going to collect $200. You're going to collect attorney fees as you have to deal with these issues.

The other area is that's important to us is gun safety. Gun violence. And you're probably thinking, why are we talking about gun safety and gun violence when murder is through the roof throughout the country? Well, we can impact gun violence and to talk about gun safety, we can impact murders. Right? And so what we want to tell people is a couple of things. Number one, make sure that your firearms-- because the third thing we're going to talk about is burglary of motor vehicles-- are secure.

Make sure they're secure in your home, make sure they're out of the hands of young people. And make sure that if you're in a volatile situation at home with domestic violence going way up, because of the aggravated assaults that have gone up. Which is driven, in large part by domestic violence, is make sure that firearms are not in a home. Take them out of the home or remove them from a home where there isn't stability in that home. And you talk about gun safety, and you talk about gun violence, and you talk about felonious murder and the murders that we're seeing out here.

Burglary of motor vehicles continues to be a problem. We need people to take, lock and hide your items in your vehicles. The most important item that you can keep out of your vehicle is your firearms. Texans love firearms. They love their firearms. We support the LTC program. But here's the problem. People are leaving their firearms in their cars, and guess what the criminals are targeting cars for guns. Every year, thousands of firearms are stolen from motor vehicles in our city.

And those firearms end up being used to commit robberies, commit assaults, and commit murders. Do not leave them in your car unless you have them locked in a lock box that cannot be easily removed and don't advertise that you have a gun in your car-- that you have a high probability of having a gun in your car by having your NRA stickers, you're protected by Smith & Wesson, you might as well put a big billboard that says, hey, there's a good chance there's a gun in here, so, break in my car. Do not advertise that you have a gun.

The other thing that we want to talk about is domestic violence, that we know has been a big part of our city and the driver in terms of our aggravated assaults. We're very proud of our DART team, they're working very closely with our partners, both non-governmental partners and governmental partners, to go out and help families and help victims of domestic violence. And our message to the community is this, if you need help, help is available. Please do not be afraid to reach out.

Reach out to the Houston police department. Us and our Houston area Women's Center and shelter are available to help you. The DA's office is working very closely with us. Our victim services is working very closely with the victims, and we promise you that we will get you on the path to safety, to security, and to mental health, emotional health, and health of your family. So please know that that's going to be an area that we're going to be working on.

I'm going to work on trying to add some lotion to my arms. I feel like a lizard. So if you see things flying off, I am a lizard, OK. If you see things flying off, just know, you're not imagining it, because I haven't had time to deal with it.

Did I miss any other points in terms of the areas?

- I have a question.

- Yes, ma'am.

- Do you include street racing?

- Yes we do. Yes we do. So, the street racing. Look, the highways are supposed to be used for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. Not for people, especially, men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s that think that they're part of the Fast and the Furious, have been watching too many movies that grew up with these cars.

Don't realize that in the Fast and Furious, that's Hollywood. You get a second take, a third take, a fourth take, and there was a young man named Paul that was in those movies. Was his last name Walker? I don't remember his last name. Paul Walker. You guys remember Paul Walker, had everything to live for. He decided to go out in a Porsche in Newhall, California. Tried to do in real world what he was doing on television, and guess what, he's dead. The highways are no place for people to engage in takeovers and road rage and in racing. It just isn't.

In terms of road rage, be aware that the road rage incidents are happening in broad daylight, where people are losing their minds, making an emotional reaction, because somebody cut them off or somebody didn't signal, or somebody is going too slow for them. And they're making that emotional reaction and shooting. And that's happening during the day, in rush hour traffic primarily, from three to about eight PM here in the greater Houston area. And we are taking people down, and have numerous arrests with our Major Assaults Team and our group that we put together.

One last thing that I want to mention about gun violence. I'm proud to say that we have deployed a tool called shotspotter in Houston at no cost to the taxpayer. It took us four years to get this pilot, but that is paying dividends. We are actually making arrests within minutes of the shots being discharged because this system is that good. And that provides that real time actionable intelligence that we can actually act on. I'm very proud of our patrol officers in our Street Crime Units are going out and catching these bad guys. That's making a difference.

And in terms of the violent crime, in terms of the robberies and the things that we're dealing with in this city. We are working very closely with our federal partners, and the US Attorney's office, and our federal court system to hold criminals accountable. So with that, I want to say thank you again to our team. Thank you all for your leadership. I look forward to the questions and thank you to the mayor and council members.

Thank you for being here and your leadership. And thank you for being part of an all hands approach to responding to this weather emergency we've been suffering from for the last week. Questions and I'll do Spanish. What? Did you want to come up?

- Yeah, I had a question for you?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Oh, yeah.

- What are we doing about convenience store owners who are allowing people to congregate?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: That's, that's a great question. We're starting to identify these convenience stores in our city, predominantly in areas that are suffering from some of this violence, and they're becoming a magnet for violence. And I thank you for bringing that up.

And let me just tell you, to the convenience store owners, we are going to start doing nuisance cases on those convenience stores that have become magnets for, quite frankly, people engaging in criminal activity, drug sales, and the ensuing violence that occurs in and around these convenience stores. We're closely tracking our calls for service and our criminal events at these locations. And the Chief Slinkard and Finner and their teams are moving very-- working very closely with the county attorney's office and the city attorney's office, and we're starting to put together nuisance cases-- public nuisance cases on these convenience stores.

So be a responsible owner. Put up "no loitering" signs. Keep people-- you have private-- you have rights as private businesses to keep people off of your premises.

And I'm here to tell you, if you're going to let people hang out and engage in criminal activity and it's, and it's creating this violence, you're probably going to end up being-- dealing with an abatement, a nuisance abatement, a lawsuit brought to you by the county attorney's office in conjunction with the city attorney and the Houston Police Department, because it is a problem. And I want to thank my executive assistant chiefs Finner and Slinkard and their teams, for actually getting the data and the evidence we need to start getting these cases going. So thank you so much for bringing that up. I really appreciate that.

- Chief, a question from Channel 11. Most of the street racing incidents happen on Westheimer. Why can't you set up undercover, undercover officers on this road to catch these guys [INAUDIBLE]?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: OK, first of all, that's not true. It's happening all over the city. But guess what, KHOU, we are using undercover officers-- not just, not just in the Westheimer area, but all over the city, and that's going to continue.

And I'm really happy to say that one of the challenges that we had last year is that we were having a real restriction at the JPC in terms of our bookings, and we worked very closely with the county to be able to change that. So we've expanded our ability to actually arrest people on book them at the JPC, including these road race-- these road racers, these street takeover suspects, and obviously the, the road ragers and some of those other more serious suspects.

- And is social media something that's being monitored?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: We're always monitoring social media, not just to deal with the street racers, but to deal with all kinds of crime. You know, let's face it, when people turn to crime, sometimes, especially in the gang environment, gang members have to, they have to talk about it. They can't help themselves. And we're always monitoring. Anything else in English?

CHARLY EDSITTY: [INAUDIBLE]

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Who are you?

CHARLY EDSITTY: Charly Edsitty with ABC13.

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Oh, hi. How are you?

CHARLY EDSITTY: Good morning. I can loan you some lotion.

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Oh, that would be great.

[LAUGHTER]

Just no, no flowery stuff. I just-- yeah, that's pretty. Help, watch this, help. You can read it-- "help."

CHARLY EDSITTY: Last week during the weather, with criminals still out and about, what did that look like over the couple of days when the city was really paralyzed with the roadways?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Well, I'm happy to say that-- two things. One, I-- we're so blessed, you know? Mr. [INAUDIBLE] said we have grit. We do have grit, but we also have intelligence here, and we have trust.

When the mayor and city leaders asked people to stay off the roads, they actually did. And for a while there, even the criminals were staying off the roads because, you know, I guess for their own safety, I don't know.

We only had one fatality, only one fatality related to the weather. That's huge. One fatality and only two fatalities during the weather event. The other one was actually a drunk driver that went the wrong way.

So that just speaks volumes as to the trust that people have in the leaders here, the elected leaders and the city leaders. But crime did go down with the exception of some of the burglaries that popped up, and we actually deployed resources to start impacting that right away. We're starting to see now that things are thawing out that the shootings are starting to pop back up.

And so we need people to know, please, when you hear the shooting or you see something, you've got to report it. Part of the decisions that we make-- back away from there. Part of the-- that was, yeah.

Part of the decisions that we make in terms of our deployments is really based on data. And if you don't report the gunshots, one of the things that we've learned through ShotSpotter is that there's a lot of underreporting going on. People think that we're not going to respond. We will always respond to shots being fired.

I want to really thank our men and women that, for the entire week, operational period, our priority zero calls, which is our highest priorities, are a crime in progress emergency calls, we basically stayed on top of them, at no point where they really backed up. I don't think we ever really had, had them backed up at all, our priority ones and our priority twos. I call them zeros, because that's the highest priority in my mind. The only ones that backed up a little bit were the lower priority calls, and that's because we want to focus on life-threatening calls.

So it's starting to creep up again, so we need to get back in the game. But we never left the game, you know? We were actually-- on one night we had an individual up in the North Sheppard area that was, I think it was on Airport-- off of Airport, wasn't it? Airline, excuse me-- Airline, that was going around robbing taco trucks that were trying to make a living. And our officers actually engaged that individual and sadly there was an officer-involved shooting. That suspect lost his life.

But it showed you that we never stopped fighting crime, even throughout this operational period. Anything else in English so we can move to Spanish? And you said crimen very well, and you got stronger with el crimen, very well.

- One more question. The situation you mentioned about the street racing and three of the five being arrested. When did that happen again?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: That happened last night.

- Oh, last night. And where did it happen?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Oh, I'd have to look my notes.

- Where?

- I think it was [INAUDIBLE].

- Do you remember--

CHIEF ACEVEDO: It happened-- no, but we actually chased them down.

- Wait, is this the one that was off 290?

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Yeah. Yeah.

- Do does the one--

CHIEF ACEVEDO: We'll get it to you, yeah. Three, three out of the five, three out of the five that were racing were captured and went to jail. One was an NFL player from the-- a player from the Raiders who was charged with felony evasion.

- OK.

CHIEF ACEVEDO: Right? Did I get it right?

- Verified.