ABOVE: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
In a new partnership between Harris County and Harris County Public Health, along with strong support from local law enforcement, two smart-on-crime initiatives were launched by the two entities that they believe will help make communities across Harris County safer.
The first initiative is called the Harris County Gun Violence Interruption Program, which is aimed at reducing shootings and stopping the spread of further violence by interrupting ongoing conflicts.
Cities and counties across the world have developed violence interruption programs like the one proposed in Harris County. Impacts include:
- 63% decrease in shootings and 30% reduction in gun injuries in South Bronx
- 30% reduction in shootings in Philadelphia over two years
- 70% reduction in likelihood of arrest following a violent injury hospitalization in Oakland
- 0% re-injury rate in an Indianapolis hospital-based program
- 50% reduction in gunshot wounds and killings from 2007 to 2019 in Richmond, California.
- In June 2021, the South Baltimore area (where the violence intervention program Safe Streets Baltimore operates) marked a full year without any homicides.
The second initiative is called Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART), which will allow social service, community health, and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls related to behavioral health, homelessness, substance use, and other social welfare issues (an estimated 21%-38% of 911 calls). By instituting this initiative, the entities believe it will allow peace officers—sheriff deputies, police officers, and constables—to focus on solving crimes. For example, if you call 911 about an intruder in your home, they are going to send a peace officer, just as always. If you call 911 about a person on the street corner who is suffering a mental health crisis, they are going to send a mental health professional.
“Keeping people safe is among the most fundamental responsibilities of local government,” said Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “That requires a relentless focus that adapts to changing times, incorporates lessons learned, and is grounded in common sense, experience, and hard data. These are proven programs that will make our communities safer.”
These programs are endorsed by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and are grounded in years of data, experience, and science.
“For too long, we’ve unfairly placed our peace officers in untenable positions that require the unique skills and training of a mental health expert or a social worker,” said Sheriff Gonzalez said. “HART and the Gun Violence Interrupter program will use trained professionals to intervene in situations to prevent violence and get help for people experiencing a crisis. They have my full support.”
Gun violence is a serious threat to the health, safety, and well-being of communities in the United States. Every year, 39,000 Americans die from gun violence—an average of 100 per day. In Texas, gun crimes claim the lives of 3,139 Texans each year and wound even more.
“Earlier this year, the city of Houston expanded HPD’s crisis case diversion and invested funding for crisis intervention,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Tuner. “These initiatives are sound on many levels. They prevent crime before it happens, smartly leverage limited resources to increase police focus on violent criminals and get appropriate assistance to people in crisis. Local governments must work together to keep all our communities safe and healthy. These challenges do not stop at the city limits or the county line. The City of Houston will work with Harris County to ensure the programs’ success, and I am grateful to Commissioner Ellis for his partnership.”
Harris County joins a growing number of cities and counties across the country moving forward with innovative strategies to use trained health-focused professionals to improve community safety. These agencies collaborate with other departments and serve as hubs for holistic public safety solutions. Because the focus of public health is on the health, safety and well-being of entire populations, Harris County Public Health is the logical ideal entity to house the Division of Community Health and Violence Prevention Services.
“The Community Health and Violence Prevention Services Division and the Violence Prevention Program will focus on disrupting and preventing violence, while simultaneously concentrating on interventions and services to address social and emotional well-being, economic opportunity and self-sufficiency,” Harris County Public Health Director Barbie Robinson said. “Strategies to address these issues are critical to reducing violence and improving individual and community health. These initiatives take a public health approach to violence prevention focused on identifying the risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will become a victim or perpetrator of violence and those protective factors that reduce these risks.”
Funding for these programs will come from Harris County’s general fund.
Investing in preventative, early interventions makes communities healthier and safer than overreliance on the criminal legal system. By creating these health-based programs, Harris County joins cities nationwide like Baltimore, Milwaukee, Denver, Eugene, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York City, Portland, Rochester, and San Francisco, among others.