A huge crime wave blamed on thousands of Katrina evacuees in Houston and other Southwest cities never happened, say criminologists who warned public officials and the media to be careful in attributing crime to the former New Orleans residents.
Five criminologists who reviewed crime statistics published a study in the current issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice, and found only a “modest” increase in the murder rates of Houston and Phoenix, and none in San Antonio, three cities that took in thousands of evacuees from storm-ravaged New Orleans.
The researchers did not find an accompanying rise in auto theft and assaults and other crimes, which they said would have been expected if dispossessed evacuees were responsible for a crime hike.
“What we found in Houston was there appears to be an increase in some categories of crime, in particular murder and robbery, during the Katrina time period when the evacuees came to Houston. There was no significant change in rape, aggravated assault, burglary or auto theft,“ said lead author Sean P. Varano, an assistant professor who teaches criminal justice at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.
Varano said the study was conducted to see whether anecdotal information and media reports about a rise in crime caused by Katrina evacuees was real. After the powerful August 2005 hurricane flooded New Orleans, Houston’s population swelled 7 percent as it welcomed nearly 240,000 evacuees, while San Antonio received about 30,000 evacuees and Phoenix 6,000, the study said.
“We did have an initial spike, but then things did settle down when we got a handle on it,” said Andy Kahan, Houston’s crime victims advocate.
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