Are Police Downplaying Sexual Assault in the Third Ward?
When Third Ward activists get together with HPD, the results aren't usually rosy. But last night's standing-room-only meeting of the Positive Interaction Program (PIP), which gives citizens the chance to ask questions of the South Central Patrol, was surprisingly calm -- at least in the beginning.
Photo by Mandy Oaklander Councilmembers Wanda Adams and C.O. Bradford called for more transparency last night with HPD.
The meeting was spurred by the string of recent killings in the Third Ward area, particularly the unsolved murder of Valerie Ricks, whose body was found dumped near Highway 288. Police said the murders aren't likely connected. Five of the eight murders that occurred in and immediately around the Third Ward area this year have been solved, said HPD Captain Glenn Yorek. "There's not an epidemic of homicides, and I want you to know that," he said.
Still, said District D Councilmember Wanda Adams, some of her constituents are afraid to leave their houses. "Someone just called me the other day and said, 'I told my wife to stop walking,'" Adams said.
Most of the recent homicides happened between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., responded Officer Kristen McGray. "I don't think that you need to be fearful about going out for a walk at night," she said.
Captain Yorek backed up the assertion by rattling off a list of statistics for the South Central Division: theft is down 8 percent, homicides are down 32 percent, home burglaries are down 8.5 percent, and robberies are down 10 percent. The only two categories where crime has gone up, he said quickly, are shoplifting and sexual assault. He did not reveal by how much.
Then Karen Hickman, a resident of the Third Ward, stood up.
"I did not know that there was a particular spike, as you said, in sexual assaults," Hickman said. Two Saturday mornings ago, a stranger grabbed her while she was walking. He didn't take anything from her, but she thinks he had even worse intentions. "If it wasn't for a car passing by, I believe he would have dragged me into the bushes," she said.
When the car drove by, the assailant ran away. Hickman called the police. "He [the assailant] actually came back for me," she said. "I was still in the middle of the street, screaming and hollering. I saw the police car passing me by and I thought that was the car for me. It was not." Hickman said the police car passed her by, and 25 minutes later, one finally showed up at her house.
Hickman said she was asked to give a short police report and was never contacted again. "My question is, how come a detective didn't come and question me further and connect the dots, as far as physical appearance of this man which I got a good look at?"
Now, Hickman said she's afraid to walk her dog. "We should be a little wary about just walking when someone can just grab you like that and there's no follow-up," she said.
Captain Yorek said he didn't know why a detective didn't follow up with Hickman. "That would be the responsibility of that division," he said. He wrote down Hickman's information at the end of the meeting.
Councilmember and former police chief C.O. Bradford called on the police department to start looking at crime statistics on a neighborhood level. "If we start supplying the city with information on crime and other data on a neighborhood basis, they can become armed with what they need to stay informed," he said. Right now, there's no easy way for residents like Hickman to gain context from crimes committed. She said if Quanell X hadn't reached out to her, she wouldn't have known her assault wasn't an isolated incident
When the meeting was over, Yorek told Hair Balls that sexual assault in the Third Ward has risen 34.6 percent this year. "It's a horrible crime, but most sexual assaults know each other," Yorek said. (Then again, as Yorek pointed out earlier in the meeting, so do most victims and perpetrators of homicide -- which doesn't make murder a less terrifying crime.)
As a way to decrease crime in the Third Ward, Yorek suggested that the neighborhood form a citizen patrol group, which would walk the Third Ward and look out for crime. In every neighborhood Yorek has patrolled where there's a citizen patrol group, he said, crime has gone down. No such group exists yet in the Third Ward, but after last night, the Third Ward may just be riled up enough to form one.