Mayoral Candidates Claim Houston Has Become More Dangerous, But Data Tells A Different Story

“This sort of bombastic language, which sort of suggests that Houston is this wildly dangerous city … is just not true.”

By Jill Ament & Alexandra HartSeptember 19, 2019 12:39 pm,

Is Houston one of the most dangerous cities in America? Some of the city’s mayoral candidates say so, claiming on the campaign trail that city is getting more dangerous.

But a recent Houston Chronicle story shows that some experts and criminologists disagree. St. John Barned-Smith, who reported the story, says the claims of rising crime come amid a competitive mayoral contest, with more than six people challenging incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner. He says the claims have come mostly from two candidates: Tony Buzbee and Bill King.

“Tony Buzbee, particularly, was saying in campaign appearances and on his website that, essentially, crime is out of control. All types of crime are on the rise,” Barned-Smith says. “Bill King, the other candidate, was saying there is a growing randomness to violent crimes.”

Barned-Smith and his colleagues investigated those claims.

“In this case, those statements didn’t, from our reporting, have a whole lot of grounding in fact,” he says.

One claim by Buzbee, that Houston has more crime than 95% of cities in America, was especially suspicious, Barned-Smith says.

“The fact of the matter is, Houston is one of the largest cities in the nation,” he says. “Just by the numbers, you’re gonna have more crime here.”

He looked at whether 30 years of crime data supported Buzbee’s claim, and found it didn’t.

“Like the rest of the country, Houston has seen a significant drop in crime rates across the board,” Barned-Smith says. “The general point here is that politicians will focus on single-year, or couple-of-year increments,” Barned-Smith says.

The long-term trend tells a different story than what Buzbee and King claim. Barned-Smith says there were 279 murders in Houston last year, down from 608 in 1991. Robberies have almost halved since 1991, and property crimes have dropped, too.

“This idea that all crime is on the rise is just not accurate,” Barned-Smith says.

When looking at more recent data, he says the situation is nuanced. The rates of some types of crimes like murder and burglaries have dropped since Turner entered office, while rates of aggravated assaults and rape rose. The larger point, Barned-Smith says, is that the data doesn’t indicate that Houston is a wholly dangerous place.

“This sort of bombastic language, which sort of suggests that Houston is this wildly dangerous city … is just not true,” he says.

As for voters, Barned-Smith says one survey from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University found that 15% of Houstonians felt that crime was the city’s most pressing issue.

“So, I’m not even sure how significant it really is,” he says.


Written by Caroline Covington.