Business owners, security personnel and concerned citizens gathered for a meeting Oct. 10 with police officers in northwest Houston to talk about crime trends in the area, including break-ins and vehicle burglaries.
Officers from the Houston Police Department’s North Belt Division talked about the trends, but HPD Commander Steve Spears spoke positively about the Willowbrook area.
“This area, it’s stayed up pretty good,” Spears said. “But how can we keep it that way?”
Spears spoke about HPD’s Differential Response Team that is responsible for dealing with community issues and holding meetings like the one he was at, and several DRT officers were there as well.
“What we’ve actually learned is if we can partner with the community and solve these problems before they become a problem, it really does help us,” Spears said.
Officer Harlyn Montealegre said DRT is responsible for such duties as alcohol and tobacco checks, convenience store and game room inspections, as well as issues like parking complaints and panhandlers.
Some of the current trends in the Willowbrook area that Montealegre pointed out were vehicle burglaries, shoplifting, panhandling, as well as illegal game rooms and massage parlors.
“Burglary of vehicles is a big one here,” Montealegre said.
Many of the burglaries happen to people visiting the area on business and leaving valuable items in their cars, like laptops or phones or purses.
Another issue that comes up sometimes is burglars stealing guns out of cars. But Spears said this trend is even worse for Houston police officers.
“Actually, Chief Acevedo has come out and almost dictated that we need to be more careful with our stuff, because we get a little too complacent. It’s bad,” Spears said. “Officers are some of the worst guys leaving their guns in their cars.”
Montealegre said in September of last year, they had 24 break-ins in the area. This year, they had 60 in the same month.
One issue they’ve had with newer businesses, he said, is they won’t have anyone at the store when the break-in occurs. If there is no one there to fill out a trespass affidavit saying the suspect shouldn’t have been there, they could be let go and have their charges dropped.
Another issue DRT handles is the homeless, and Montealegre said they have been working to identify the homeless population in the area. He said it’s important to be aware of some of the factors that can affect the homeless, such as mental illness or addiction.
“We cannot solve it by just putting them in jail,” he said. “A lot of time, they don’t care about citations because they can’t even make it to court.”
In some cases, he said they try to provide the homeless with resources. Spears said one solution they have is the Harris County Mental Health Jail Diversion program, which is where officers can take people with mental illness picked up for non-violent offenses before they are booked into jail, which provides care, treatment, observation and temporary beds.