|Letter from Justin Vickrey, Chairman, Crime Stoppers of Houston
The current climate that allows for repeat violent felony offenders to be considered victims of the criminal justice system and the people whom they hurt or kill (the true victims in these horrible acts) to be completely disregarded is a travesty that must stop. In the words of our victim services director for Crime Stoppers of Houston (CSoH), Andy Kahan, “Crime victims are the only unwilling participants in the criminal justice system.” Truer words have never been said, Andy.
On Thursday, three articles attacking Crime Stoppers dropped within hours of each other. One from the New York Times and two from the Houston Chronicle. They should have covered their tracks better, as it was nothing short of a coordinated media hit to try and get us to stop talking about crime in our community and the excruciating number of victims left in its wake. The victims and victim families we support and citizens we strive so hard to protect come from all socioeconomic walks of life. These violent offenders don’t care whether their victims vote Democrat or Republican. They are indiscriminate of who they target and anyone can be a victim of crime at any moment. So why is wanting to keep repeat violent felony offenders that pose a threat to our community off our streets seen as a “right-wing” ideology?
I talked to David Farenthold with the NYT for nearly 25 minutes, patiently answering nearly all of his questions. Rania, Nichole, Mimi, Tania, Cabell, and the rest of our CSoH team spent hours upon hours of sending David detailed answers to every single question and follow-up question he had. He didn’t use any of it. Nothing. Why? Because our responses didn’t fit the narrative he had already formed before ever starting to write the article. His co-author, Keri Blakinger, is a writer for the Marshall Project. What do they believe is one of the solutions to our criminal justice system? To abolish prisons (https://www.themarshallproject.org/records/4766-prison-abolition). Sounds totally sane, right? No bias whatsoever.
The politicization of crime is nothing short of sickening. In full disclosure, I have been a member of CSoH’s board of directors since 2016, served on our executive committee since 2017, and have been chairman of the board since January 2021. I remember our board meeting in 2019 when we discussed felony bond reform for the first time and the dangers it posed. We publicly supported misdemeanor bond reform but chose to be vocal and make a public stand against the continued release of repeat violent felony offenders.
Looking back three years later, I am proud of the decision our board made, but incredibly sad how many families have needlessly endured the loss of their loved ones. I believe Andy has tracked 170 people in Harris County who were murdered by people who were out on multiple violent felony bonds since 2019. They should all be with us today if the judges didn’t allow personal reconnaissance (free) or very low bonds to these violent offenders and the bail bondsmen didn’t accept payments as low as 2% or payment plans for their release rather than the standard 10%. This means on a $25,000 bond, some repeat violent felony offenders may pay as little as $500 to get out of jail. Not a very high bar to keep our community safe.
CSoH’s mission is to solve and prevent serious crime in the Greater Houston Area in partnership with citizens, media, and the criminal justice system. While CSoH’s claim to fame is the tip line anchorman Dave Ward professed for decades, our Safe School Institute, Safe Community programs, and research center have added immeasurably valuable help to our community and throughout the state of Texas. We have reached more than 1.2M students throughout Texas with vital information regarding online safety, bullying, dating violence, and a host of other important topics that are age-appropriate.
The defamation contained in these articles is incredibly haphazard. What they neglect to mention about the money they claim we received from Governor Abbott is that it did not come from him directly, but was voted on by both sides of the Texas House and Senate in 2017 and passed unanimously without a single no vote. The money we have received from the state since has been strictly for the use of expanding our Safe School Institute throughout Texas after the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018.
Again, it was not until 2019 that we were made aware of the judges applying the misdemeanor bail reform to repeat violent felony offenders. To believe we only became vocal after we received money from the state two years prior to the problem ever revealing itself is wrong. To believe Andy’s and Fox26’s work on the Breaking Bond series highlighting the most egregious crimes that continue to bring awareness to shortcomings from the judges is done for nefarious purposes is disingenuous. All but one court has been highlighted on the segments and they’re all Democrat judges. Yes, the revenue we receive from the courts is down significantly from where it was several years ago, but what they don’t clearly state is how small of a percentage of our revenue it makes up, how our organization has grown beyond the tip line, or how many other organizations were added to the pool of options each judge can designate for the $50 probationary fee.
In regards to the building, like many non-profits who build their own office, we were blessed in raising half of what was needed in short order so we could start construction and borrowed the other half with a low-interest loan from a local foundation. To claim we started “targeting” the judges due to the reduction in court revenue and the building put us in dire financial straits is absolutely defamatory. We were able to pay the note off thanks to so many of our wonderful supporters and we’re blessed to have a space that serves our diverse community.
Attacking Rania on a personal level (Chronicle) and bashing DA Kim Ogg for being a tough-on-crime “conservative Democrat” District Attorney is reprehensible. I have personally worked with Rania for many years now and am continually impressed by her leadership, dedication, and never-ending work ethic. Day and night, weekday and weekend, she is there. She’s also sought to guide us through this current climate with grace and a commitment to the mission. As for DA Ogg, we are thankful for her years of support and prior leadership of CSoH. I am proud of our team at Crime Stoppers, the great work that we do, and incredibly thankful for the support we have received for years and continue to receive from most of our local, state, and federally elected officials across both sides of the political aisle.
There is much work to be done and there is far too much to lose if we stop now. Like many of you, Houston is my hometown and it concerns me deeply about what our great city and region will look like for our children in the decades to come. If we do not have a fundamental course correction in how the criminal justice system puts the concerns of repeat violent felony offenders above the protection and safety of victims and our citizens, God helps us all.
– Justin Vickrey, Chairman, Crime Stoppers of Houston