HOUSTON - For the latest edition of "Texas-The Issue Is…" FOX 26 Political Reporter Greg Groogan spoke with John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate.
The longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is calling for a bi-partisan sense of urgency to restore crumbling public safety across the Lone Star State.
Groogan: No one knows more about criminal justice, in my opinion, than you. You have been watching. You have been studying. You have been gauging the situation in the Lone Star State, particularly here in its biggest City. What has happened? Why are we in trouble?
Whitmire: Data would show we are allowing repeat violent offenders on the streets of Houston and Harris County and other urban centers settings. So while we tried to fix the bond issue for low level offenders it has also allowed more violent offenders to be released. It is just unheard of that you would give a violent offender, a murderer and even instances in Harris County Capitol murders, a bond. And you see individuals violate conditions in their first bond and get another one. The murders of Houstonians by people out on bond is just reprehensible. It doesn't have to happen. People are staying home. They are scared. It's not good for Houstonians. It's not good for our reputation around the state and the nation. I believe strongly that it will affect our economy because people are just going to avoid Houston if it continues to get the reputation for its violence. Now some are going to say, ‘Whitmire, you are exaggerating, you are embellishing the problem.’ The truth is, I am not. The facts speak for themselves. When you have backlogged cases going to court. When you have a hundred thousand felony warrants waiting to be served, we have got a serious problem.
The heck with the holidays! Judges ought to not take holidays off. Work through the holidays have evening and weekend court so it's not really rocket science stuff, it's the attitude of the people in charge. So everybody needs to be fired up. If not, they are going to held accountable at the ballot box.
We have got to get the backlog through the courts. If you are innocent send them home to their family. If they have put a gun in somebody's face, if they've murdered somebody you send them to TDCJ. You have got to get the violent element off the streets of Houston and Harris County.
Groogan: At least 180 documented cases of Harris County residents being killed by folks out on bond. Does that underscore everything you just said?
Whitmire: The PR bonds ought to be considered for non-violent, offenders, low level offenders but not someone who has a rap sheet a mile long. Those folks will go out and re-offend and that's what's leading to the large number of murders. I do not apologize for holding armed robbers accountable. We have the means to lock people up when they murder someone, repeat murderers ought to be locked up and held accountable.
Groogan: Your longtime Senate colleague Rodney Ellis who is now Precinct 1 Commissioner has repeatedly suggested the out-right dismissal of tens of thousands of pending felony cases as a means of relieving the docket and the jail. Is that acceptable to Texans?
Whitmire: It's unacceptable to Texans. It's unacceptable to Houstonians and people in Harris County. The first thing it would do it would be destroy the morale of our police officers. They are not going to be motivated to put their life on the line if you are going to dismiss their cases. Here's the problem we cannot allow the violence and the crime on the streets of Houston and Harris county to become the norm. We cannot be desensitized to the murders and other violent offenses. Every night when I go home I watch the evening news, usually twice, you can't name a day when there hasn't been a murder or a shooting on the streets of Houston and Harris County.
As the long-time chairman of the Texas Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, Whitmire has maintained constant oversight of the state's prison system.
He says that since pandemic struck, the number of convicted criminals incarcerated in TDCJ has dropped by 20 percent - and he knows exactly where the unpunished have sought refuge.
Whitmire: Most of them are on the streets of Houston, Harris County. I can't emphasize enough when you see someone on TV, that's on video, an armed robber, and he's not captured, they don't have a suspect, that person is doing it again, and again and again.
Groogan: You have very publicly broken with the sitting County Judge and other on Commissioners Court for their failure to address this issue. Why did you do that?
Whitmire: Because I don't play politics with crime fighting. Criminals don't discriminate they work in all communities. The nonsense of experimenting with de-funding police so you can then fund other programs is just wrong and I think we are living through some of the experiments. There's no question that mental health, neighborhood conditions everything contributes to the human being, but If we are not safe Greg nothing else matters.
Groogan: Senator what happens if we don't fix this issue?
Whitmire: It's going to get worse. It's going to continue to take lives and property. I think people will continue to alter their lives. I think they will lock themselves up in their houses. They will purchase firearms. They'll do burglar alarms. It will not be the community that we are proud of. Houston is the greatest City in this state, in the greatest state in the nation. We will never reach our full potential. If we don't get public safety under control.