Their city officials have been less apt to blame higher crime numbers on Katrina evacuees and offer up a reason why Houston officials are playing up the Myth of the Katrina Criminal:
Houston's attempt to peg a statistical correlation of higher crime rates to the arrival of evacuees has brought in millions of dollars to help pay its police and fire bills. But that city's correlation — and the Express-News' attempt to replicate Houston's analysis — is open to debate.The Myth of the Katrina Criminal is worth millions of dollars to Houston.
In Houston, which also received five times as many evacuees as San Antonio, the statistical impact is not much greater because its population is three times the Alamo City's size.
After tracing murders and noting leaps in other violent crime near resettlement areas, the administration of Houston Mayor Bill White has aggressively pursued more than $30 million in federal money for public safety costs. The money has gone to pay police and fire overtime and for five new police academy training classes.
Houston has claimed the evacuee link wholeheartedly, with some success. Houston won an $18 million Department of Justice grant after White lobbied Houston's congressional delegation.
"My opinion is it never hurts to ask," said Gary E. Gray, assistant director for Houston's finance department. "If you don't ask what's possible, nothing's going to happen."
The San Antonio article seems to imply that there *is* a link – officials simply haven’t looked hard enough or in the right places. But the best evidence the authors can uncover from the experts, officials, or community members they interviewed is that the rise in crime at the same time Katrina evacuees arrived is an unlikely “coincidence.” That’s not much proof.
One Texas criminologist offers up the most likely explanation for the rise in crime that can be supported by the facts:
"I think saying that [Katrina evacuees are causing more crime in the cities they go to] comes pretty close to demonizing people who were evacuated. All you can say is that's interesting, that went up," said Dr. Michael J. Gilbert, associate professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio criminal justice department and Mayor Phil Hardberger's appointee to a local crime commission.In other words, the criminals already in the cities where evacuees went suddenly had more people to commit crimes on, sell drugs to, rob, kill, or whatever. With more criminal activity, police targeted those areas with special task forces, rooting out more criminals, making more arrests, which resulted in even higher crime numbers – all the things that good myths are made of.
"While that's perfectly rational thinking, it may be misleading in terms of what this data may actually mean. I think they're (city of Houston) trying to make the best case they can to get money when it's not defensible."
He and other experts say the coincidence that a sudden spike in major crime occurred with the arrival of evacuees might easily be explained by population increases, shifts in police tactics or changing drug trade dynamics.