Vol. 27 | January 2023

OJS extends the warmest farewell to Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, who served Harris County for five years—three of which she spent at OJS. Ana was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was ten years old; she earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, a Master of Public Administration, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Texas in Policy and Planning in Education Administration, focusing her dissertation on the school-to-prison pipeline. Ana has served as Policy Director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Texas, as Executive Director for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and launched the Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition before joining Harris County in 2018. 
Ana accomplished many goals during her tenure at OJS, including partnering with Public Health for the Violence Prevention Conference: A Holistic Approach to Public Safety by coordinating and organizing local and national presenters, professionals, practitioners, and community members with public policy, law enforcement, academia, social justice, and public health backgrounds to focus on the need for change from punishment to more solutions that help communities; and partnering with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department to establish and manage a Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund – a community-led, multi-million-dollar fund that re-envisions public safety for youth in Harris County.  

OJS is grateful to Ana for her service to the county and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors! 
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Awareness Month, and Houston is one of the main hubs for trafficking in the United States. Due to the nature of trafficking, it is difficult to get accurate statistics on the number of survivors, but it affects an estimated 16,554 trafficking survivors in the United States in 2021 according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

In recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) has updated the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide to include additional resources for trafficking survivors. The Guide also provides information on general supportive services for all crime survivors as well as breaks down resources by victimization and by Commissioners Court precinct.

The updated Survivor of Crime Resource Guide can be accessed on the OJS website here

On December 18, 2022, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) Houston Chapter hosted their Holiday Celebration to discuss their achievements for the year and recognize the work of several community and county partners. CSSJ is the flagship program of the Alliance for Safety and Justice and is the nation’s largest network of crime survivors who have joined together to create healing communities and influence public policy. CSSJ advocates for and supports policies that benefit crime survivors and heal the communities most harmed by crime and violence. 

CSSJ’s Houston Chapter Coordinator, Cylenthia Hoyrd, started the celebration discussing the achievements of CSSJ throughout 2022, including expanding Trauma Recovery Centers and hosting a virtual Survivors Speak Conference, and the policy focus of the upcoming Texas legislative session. CSSJ also plans to help Texas survivors tell their stories at the Capitol in Austin by holding at Survivors Speak event there in 2023 and to assist in passing legislation that will expand victim assistance. Another bill in its sights is the “clean slate” bill which would seal certain criminal records—important for helping individuals re-integrate into society following justice involvement. And another bill will provide post-release housing for some individuals on parole. They will also support funding for the creation of Trauma Recovery Centers that will provide transformational care to survivors of crime that will allow them to fully heal and end the cycle of violence.

Among those honored were Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher with the Office of Justice and Safety; Tanisha Manning, Policy Advisor, Commissioner Ellis, Harris County Precinct One, and Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct One. CSSJ presented all three with certificates of appreciation, recognizing their leadership and commitment to the work of CSSJ.
In addition to honoring Commissioner Ellis, at the celebration, Ms. Manning presented a resolution from Commissioner Ellis to CSSJ, Houston Chapter. This in part stated that CSSJ “has devoted their time and talents in the past year to civic engagement through collective partnerships regarding voting initiatives, organizing healing vigils and monthly meetings, and planning advocacy strategies…Harris County Precinct One is proud to work alongside the Houston Chapter in the ongoing struggle to address real harm and to participate in their intentional spaces where it is safe to be vulnerable and share stories.”
For more information on the Alliance for Safety and Justice, please visit: https://asj.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/
For more information on Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, please visit https://cssj.org/

Recently Columbia University’s Justice Lab hosted the webinar, “Navigating Youth Justice Reinvestment: What Harris County’s Experience Can Highlight about Shifting Resources into Communities.”

Henry Gonzales, Executive Director of the Juvenile Probation Department, Issac Eguia, social worker for the school district and community activist, and Kelly Venci Gonzalez, Youth Justice Policy Analyst for the Office of Safety and Justice joined a panel moderated by Vidhya Ananthakrishnan, Director of the Justice Lab’s Youth Justice Initiatives.

Ms. Ananthakrishnan outlined a new report detailing the creation of the Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund from idea to implementation to a national audience of justice professionals. The report details the design process for the creation of the fund, working across systems and communities to gain support and involvement of the community in the process of program design. The reinvestment fund is the first of its kind in Texas and will provide four million dollars in funding for community-based non-profits to provide support for youth and their families at risk of or involved in the juvenile justice system.

Panelists shared insights on what community investment looks like from both the community and government perspectives and the benefits and challenges that come when creating new programs for investing in communities. Panelists concluded their discussion with the importance of partnership in creating programs to support families and youth.

The Columbia Justice Lab Report can be found here: https://justicelab.columbia.edu/process-matters

Texas’ 88th Legislative Session kicked off on January 10. To date, legislators have filed nearly two thousand bills. Hundreds of these bills directly or indirectly impact Harris County residents.
OJS’ Policy and Research Division is monitoring justice-related proposed legislation in coordination with Harris County Intergovernmental and Global Affairs.
The deadline for bill filing is Friday, March 10, and the last day of the 88th Regulation Session (sine die) is Monday, May 29.
We appreciate all of the work the Intergovernmental and Global Affairs Department does to represent Harris County and OJS is happy to be a resource to their amazing team. 
Stay tuned for additional updates throughout the legislative session!
Insight into the OJS's Data and Analytics Division
The Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) is working on creating a new public-facing dashboard that will provide information on U visa certification requests in the County. This new dashboard will provide information on the number of U visa certification requests received, those approved, and those denied each month, as well as yearly.

This dashboard will first have data from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office from 2019 to the present. This will help the county understand how many U visa certifications the HCSO is receiving each month, as well as how many of these are approved and/or denied.

OJS hopes to be able to eventually have a dashboard that will include data from all County certifying agencies.

Once live, the U visa certification dashboard will be able to be available on the OJS website, with our other dashboards.
By: Office of Commissioner Precinct 3
Continuing his pledge to reduce crime, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey is providing license plate reading technology to law enforcement in Harris County, improving their efforts in identifying criminal activity. Costing $2,500 a year per camera to operate, the technology will send real-time alerts to law enforcement when a vehicle associated with crime is captured on camera.
“We’ve witnessed the success of this technology in Spring Valley, Baytown, and other jurisdictions, so we worked with our Constables to find the best locations in unincorporated areas of Precinct 3 to install them,” said Commissioner Tom Ramsey. “This helps law enforcement catch wanted vehicles quickly. It acts as another set of eyes for law enforcement so if you’re looking to break the law in Precinct 3 – move elsewhere, because this isn’t the place.”
These license plate readers will also assist in finding vehicles that the Texas Department of
Public Safety has tagged for missing persons such as Amber and Silver alerts. The technology also reads paper tags, which will complement the State and local efforts in combating fictitious plates.

The technology is another effort to respond to the historical crime rates in Harris County. Last year, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey launched a Crime Task Force to help combat the rise in crime. Composed of various law enforcement agencies, one of their recommendations included the need for license plate reading technology to help in crime reduction.
After working with the County’s Engineering Department on permitting and the Purchasing Department for technology and software procurement, Precinct 3 successfully mounted license plate readers throughout the area.

Commissioner Ramsey’s office is also looking to work with municipal utility districts, homeowners’ associations, and other groups to expand the reach of license plate reading technology, as well as identifying grant funding for law enforcement groups to help supplement their usage and cut down the cost to taxpayers. In addition, Commissioner Ramsey is working on State legislation to address the ongoing epidemic of crimes connected to fictitious plates.
By: Office of County Administrator
Yesterday, Commissioners Court approved the County’s first-ever Climate Action Plan (CAP) for internal operations.

The goal of the CAP is a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The CAP provides a strategy to achieve that goal and includes a GHG inventory, GHG reduction goals and 2030 targets, and a set of emissions reduction strategies.
“Acting now benefits the local economy, ensures that County operations are efficient and managed responsibly, and prepares the County for future climate impacts,” said Lisa Lin, Harris County’s Director of Sustainability. “Now more than ever, our 2030 goal is feasible as industries retool for clean technology development, and historical federal funding spurs innovation and the widespread adoption of climate action.”
The CAP provides numerous benefits beyond protecting the health of Harris County residents by tracking and reducing GHG emissions associated with County operations. It provides economic benefits that allow the County to lower operating expenses and leverage local and federal clean energy funding. It also addresses climate risk and increases adaptive capacity while bolstering the operational resilience of critical County assets.
“The Climate Action Plan shows Harris County commits to leading the transition to a resilient future and helping us remain as the energy capital of the world. I am proud of Precinct 2’s contributions to Phase I of the strategy, and I look forward to the County implementing the goals outlined in the report, as without a plan to address emissions, climate change will drastically damage our future,” said Harris Co. Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
Commissioner Lesley Briones stated, “As a mother of three young daughters, I feel an urgency to advance climate action initiatives to preserve the environment for future generations. The Climate Action Plan is a strong step forward. Harris County will continue leading—and will be both the energy capital of the world, and the alternative energy capital of the world. I am proud that Precinct 4 includes the Energy Corridor, and I look forward to working with the community and industry to build the resilient, prosperous future our families deserve.”
Phase II commences with the development of a broad-based, community-driven planning effort to engage frontline community residents in an external-facing emissions reduction plan which centers on climate justice and equity. Stephany Valdez, an organizer for the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience noted, “It is evident that we are living in the middle of a climate crisis, and we need to do something about it for our county. It is very inspiring to see our elected officials take action to reduce Harris County’s own emissions by 40%, all before 2030. I look forward to working alongside all of you to make sure Phase II of the plan is community-oriented, and residents’ needs are being prioritized during this project.”
By: Harris County Sheriff's Office

Harris County has seen a spike in violent crime since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise in crime has contributed to an increase in warrants issued and in turn has created a backlog of outstanding warrants, leaving violent and dangerous criminals out on the streets.

As of March 2022, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Criminal Warrants Division had 50,247 outstanding warrants, of which 4,883 were for aggravated offenses and 703 for murder. Before 2019, the Criminal Warrants Division was receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 warrants per month; in the past year, the division has been receiving an average of 6,000 new warrants per month. In addition to the increased number of warrants, at the peak of the pandemic the division was forced to temporarily re-assign investigators from executing warrants to supporting other divisions to augment security measures. All of these factors have contributed to the growing number of outstanding warrants. 
The Violent Persons Task Force (VIPER) is designed to focus exclusively on tracking down the most dangerous offenders: people accused of aggravated offenses (such as aggravated assault where serious bodily injury occurred, or a weapon was used in the offense) and those with murder warrants. This Task Force is incorporated into the General Investigations Division/Criminal Warrants Section as the Harris County Violent Persons (VIPER) Task Force. With a backlog seemingly with no end in sight, hundreds of criminals may feel free to go on committing violent offenses without being held accountable. The VIPER Task Force will put a stop to the culture of not feeling there are consequences for criminal activity.
Having additional capacity will allow the Criminal Warrants Division to address the growing number of bond revocations and bond forfeitures. As of April 2022, there were 1,000 open warrants due to bond revocations and/or bond forfeitures for individuals who were out on bond for aggravated felony offenses who had committed a new crime and/or violated the conditions of bond set forth by the court. These fugitives tend to be career criminals with histories of violence, and they pose a significant threat to public safety. Therefore, individuals with revoked and forfeited bonds for serious offenses is a top priority for VIPER.
The prioritization of warrants will be:
  1.  By offense, in order of priority: Aggravated Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child, Injury to a Child, Aggravated Assault Family Member, and Aggravated Sexual Assault
  2. By date issued: the unit will pursue newest first and work their way back towards clearing the backlog (To address older warrants, the subject of the warrant will be researched to determine if we have a good address on the subject; this will be accomplished through data base searches, criminal history searches to determine if the individual is in the custody of an outside agency. The probability of successful execution, again, coupled with the propensity of the person to re-offend, will be used to prioritize the execution of older warrants.)
  3. By propensity of repeat violence of the wanted subject.
VIPER is modeled after the very successful US Marshals Fugitive Task Force. Utilizing their best practices, the unit will bring together Harris County law enforcement agencies to leverage their agencies’ expertise in support of fugitive investigations. The collaboration of regional law enforcement agencies will improve communication, surveillance capacity and analytical research to ensure the prompt locating and apprehension of our region’s most violent fugitives. This multi-agency effort is a force multiplier that will benefit all participating agencies equally regardless of their size and resources.
Bringing all Harris County law enforcement agencies together and working collaboratively allows for a faster response to identify and address a spike in criminal activity in a specific area. The collaboration allows the task force to know about and bring to custody the most prolific offenders in the county with a propensity for violence. Agencies will no longer be working in silos. The task force will have the ability and flexibility to focus resources in the area of interest and bring the offender to justice. The unit will not be restricted by geography, they will all execute warrants throughout all of Harris County.
The VIPER Task Force is a multi-agency unit dedicated to the execution of Harris County Warrants within Harris County. The Task Force is split into two teams; each team will consist of Deputy Constables and Deputy Sheriffs. Each eight-person team will be supervised by a Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Constable Sergeant in coordination with the assigned command team. As part of this Task Force the assigned representatives from the HCSO and the Constables will all work as one unit.
This unit is housed under the HCSO General Investigative Division. Given that by Texas law, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is the custodian for the warrants, the personnel will be supervised by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Personnel report to 810 San Jacinto as needed for warrant assignments and warrant returns, otherwise they will be in their assigned areas of operation executing warrants.
Personnel include the following:
  • 1 Constable Captain
  • 1 Sheriff Lieutenant
  • 1 Constable Lieutenant
  •  1 Sheriff Sergeant
  • 1 Constable Sergeant
  • 6 Constable Deputies (1 from each Constable Pct. 1,2,3,5,6,8)
  •  10 Sheriff’s Deputies
As a means of estimating impact, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team (VCAT) provides the closest benchmark. (The Gulf Coast Violent Offenders and Fugitive Task Force provides a less relevant comparison due to the level of additional federal support activities performed.)
The VCAT team consists of five investigators and one Sergeant. In 2021, their results included:
 564 felony warrants cleared (all aggravated and violent crimes)
  • 408 bodies arrested
  • 47 felony warrants cleared per month (average)
  • 34 bodies arrested per month (average)
Scaling these VCAT results by 3.2 (considering the increased team size of 16 investigators), forecasted impact is as follows:
  • 1,804 felony warrants cleared per year
  • 1,305 bodies arrested per year
  • 150 felony warrants per month
  • 108 bodies arrested per month
Given an expected 20 working days per month, projected daily results include an average of 7.5 felony warrants cleared and 5.4 bodies arrested per day. These are aggressive targets representing very focused work, particularly accounting for research time and surveillance.
With an estimated 108 bodies arrested per month and an estimated jail stay for each of less than two weeks (assuming the majority are subsequently released on bond, absent those with extremely violent offenses or prior bond revocation), an increase to the jail population of at least 50 individuals is expected. Jail leadership acknowledges that while the jail is currently over capacity, they will be able to handle this influx. 

VIPER arrest data thru December 2022   
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