HOUSTON - During the upcoming New Year’s weekend, Houston police will try something new to stop an annual celebration that’s hurt and even killed Houstonians.
The department will be sending out special teams looking for people shooting into the air.
One of the victims of celebratory gunfire was Erica Rivera's husband, Javier.
Moments after midnight on New Year's Day 2015, Erica and 43-year-old Javier, walked out of their Southeast Houston home to watch the fireworks.
Javier, a father of three, was suddenly struck in the head and killed by a stray bullet from celebratory gunfire.
"We're standing here today in honor of the Rivera family,” said Chief Art Acevedo, during a Friday morning press conference at the Houston Police Department headquarters.
Chief Acevedo delivered a message in English and in Spanish to Houston TV viewers, warning them of the dangers of celebratory gunfire to the community and the consequences to those pulling the trigger.
"When it comes up, it must come down, and we should not play Russian roulette with the lives of our families,” said Chief Acevedo.
He says over the New Year’s weekend, he’ll be deploying special teams to look for and arrest people shooting bullets into the air.
Anyone caught and convicted could spend up to a year in jail and pay up to a $4,000 fine, or worse if someone is injured or killed as a result.
Chief Acevedo says he will be on patrol citywide during the overnight hours of New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day.
“My hope is that I don’t get a call after I go to bed that we found somebody dead or injured from drunk driving or celebratory gunfire,” said Chief Acevedo.
Even if the bullets hit nothing but air, police say the 911 calls they get lead to officers being pulled away from stopping drunk drivers and violent criminals.
Police officials say HPD has gotten around 3,600 calls for discharge of a firearm in the last five years, most of them happening overnight.
Out of 603 calls in 2015, nearly 400 of them occurred in the hours around midnight.
"Sometimes they sound like machine guns,” said Pete Inocencio, who lives near the Rivera home, talking about celebratory gunfire over New Year’s. “After 12 o’clock, you can hear it up until about 4 o’clock in the morning."
Inocencio says he worries about his family's safety every New Year’s holiday, especially of his 11-year-old grandson.
"You can't step outside cause you're liable to get hurt,” said Inocencio, who says he would like to see increased patrols.
Victor Senties, a police spokesperson, says the special teams are being paid for with overtime money.
Neither he nor the chief would discuss how many officers will be deployed, or where and how they’ll work, telling KHOU 11 they don’t want to reveal tactical information.
Erica Rivera told KHOU 11 on Friday she hopes the New Year’s operation is successful and can stop another family from going through the pain that she and her children have been feeling every day for the last two years.