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Houston, Harris County leaders introduce $6 million proposal to reduce crime

The proposal from Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis would focus on "health-based strategies" to address root causes of violence.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — As law enforcement continues to fight a violent crime surge in Houston and Harris County, local leaders are adding health-based strategies focused on prevention.

The Harris County Violence Interruption Program proposed by Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis adds the healthcare system as an additional "crime-fighting tool," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo explained at a news conference on Monday.

Healthcare workers will identify early warning signs of potential gun violence and attempt to address them before it's too late.

"The program will enlist community leaders to help us fight back at the neighborhood level," Hidalgo said. "Basically, to try and stop violence before it happens."

The initiative also includes the Holistic Alternative Responder Team (HART) made up of healthcare workers trained to respond to non-violent calls dealing with issues like mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

"To reduce crime, we have to break that cycle of crime, incarceration, repetition to get at the root causes of crime," Hidalgo said.

She said the $5 million HART initiative will free up law enforcement to focus on violent crime.

Ellis said Denver's HART members answered 30% of police calls over a six-year period.

He said Harris County joins cities -- including New York, San Francisco and Chicago -- in adding health-based interventions to address crime.

Here's an excerpt from Ellis' proposal that further explains how it works.

"Health-based interventions address root causes of violence and advance preventive efforts to ensure our communities are as safe and healthy as possible.

The Harris County Violence Interruption Program is a community-based solution to reduce gun violence using public health techniques that operate outside and complementary to law enforcement.

The program works on an individual and population level to prevent gun violence before it occurs and stops the spread of further violence by interrupting ongoing conflicts.

The program incorporates the most effective strategies from community-based and hospital-based violence prevention programs across the country.

These components include:

  • Using qualitative and quantitative data to identify individuals and locations most impacted by gun violence
  • Outreach to people who have experienced or are at high risk of being involved in a violent encounter through credible messengers in neighborhoods and hospital settings
  • Intensive engagement through coordination care teams that help residents meet basic needs and address the risk factors for violence
  • Community-wide engagement to proactively communicate clear messages about alternatives to violence and gun safety. 

This program will be overseen by Harris County Public Health (HCPH) in a new Community Health and Violence Prevention Services Division (“Division”)."