Sheriff’s office: Local crime on the decline, except domestic violence deaths

EDINBURG — While crime in the county may be on the decline, at least according to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, reports of domestic violence deaths represent one notable exception.

“This one statistic, no matter what we do, we simply cannot get it to go down,” Division Chief Joel Rivera told county commissioners Tuesday. “It holds steady. The statistic in question is the percentage of murders that are the result of domestic violence.”

In 2017, the sheriff’s office reported 23 murders, according to data shared at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday, of which 10 stemmed from domestic violence. Seven of the 10 murders reported in 2016 were also related to domestic violence, Sheriff Eddie Guerra said.

As a result of murders doubling in number from 2016 to 2017 — paired with an increase in aggravated assault cases, which rose from 313 to 352 — violent crime increased last year by 5.6 percent.

Guerra told The Monitor that it’s important to note that violent crime numbers for 2016 were on the low end.

“2016 had a reduction of 14 percent in violent crime from 2015, so we’re comparing (2017) to a year that was very low,” he said. “That’s why you see an increase.”

He told commissioners that property crime — which includes burglary, theft and auto theft — dropped by 15.6 percent in 2017. And the 4,438 property crime cases the sheriff’s office reported last year represent a 44 percent decrease from the 7,942 in 2009.

The sharp reduction in crime over the past decade reflects the notion that border communities are safe, Guerra said.

“This area is constantly getting thrown under the bus since we’re a border county … but these numbers indicate that crime continues to go down,” he told commissioners.

In order to address the one type of crime they haven’t been able to address, the sheriff’s office received approval from commissioners Tuesday to apply for the Violence Against Women Justice and Training Program through the governor’s office.

Guerra said the program, which is funded by both the state and the county, would allow his office to hire four deputies who would be tasked with following up on every domestic dispute call the sheriff’s office receives. The department would also hire a domestic abuse intervention specialist.

“They would meet with the victims, offer services through the (specialist) and let him or her know that organizations are out there to help to make sure the cycle of domestic violence stops,” Guerra said.

A similar program was started in 2011 by then-Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, before ending in 2013. It’s unclear why the award-winning program was terminated, having received a “Best Practices” award in spring 2013 from the Texas Association of Counties’ Leadership Program.

“We tried to throw manpower (at the problem), but there was no way we could do it,” Guerra said of the challenge of prioritizing domestic violence without designated staff.

The sheriff’s office will learn whether it receives the grant by the summer.

“If we could just save one, even two lives, that will be well worth it,” Guerra said.