Public Safety in Houston 

Despite some progress, violent crime and gun-related deaths are on the rise in our communities

While there are some positive signs in road safety, growing rates of violent crime and gun-related deaths undermine our vibrant region.

Why public safety matters to Houston

Here we seek to understand four main categories of public safety that affect our region: firearm fatalities, vehicular collisions, violent crime and human trafficking. Each one affects different parts of our communities in different ways, but all have a significant impact on quality of life for those affected and those around them. In addition, each can have a severe impact on the performance of our region both locally and at the national level, as perceptions of safety can affect trade, tourism, residential growth and more. And while our region is improving in some areas of public safety, growing concerns persist in others.

By identifying where we stand in these areas, we can all take action to improve safety throughout the Houston area.

The data

Throughout the country, firearms are a growing source of concern and have emerged as one of the leading causes of death (preventable or otherwise) in the U.S.1,2 The gun-related fatality rate is higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries. There are more gun suicides than gun homicides in America. In fact, suicide rates are correlated with the availability of household guns and state-level rates of gun ownership are correlated with firearm homicide rates.Across the nation, state and three-county area, firearm fatality rates are increasing. 

758 gun-related deaths

Across the three-county region in 2017, compared to 594 in 2010.

Annual firearm fatalities per 100,000 population

The firearm fatality rate in the three-county area has grown consistently between 2010 and 2017 and is slightly higher than the already-high national and state averages at 12.7 deaths per 100,000 people. Harris County possesses the highest rate of firearm fatalities in the region at 13.3, a rate that steadily increased from 2000 to 2017. Montgomery County experienced the highest increase in firearm fatalities between 2010 and 2017, growing from 10.1 deaths annually to 12.3. 

“The rate of gun-related deaths in the three-county area remains higher than the state and nation, further increasing between 2010 and 2017”

Traffic fatalities remain a tragic problem in our region

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people under the age of 35.4 It is estimated that in 2010, the lifetime economic costs of motor vehicle collisions were $242 billion. This number represents the present value of lifetime economic costs for 32,999 fatalities, 3.9 million non-fatal injuries, and 24 million damaged vehicles.5 These numbers don’t even begin to account for the social costs of losing loved ones to crashes. 

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas had 3,639 traffic fatalities in 2018, the most of any state in the nation, translating to an estimated economic loss of $38.4 billion.6 The three-county area experienced 468 vehicle collision deaths in 2018, accounting for 12.9% of the state’s traffic fatalities. 

Importantly, much work also needs to be done to protect cyclists and pedestrians. In 2018, 6,227 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the U.S., the highest figure since 1990.6 Pedestrian fatalities totaled 621, and deaths of people on bikes accounted for 72 deaths in Texas in 2018, both increased from 2017.

Harris County and Fort Bend County have experienced lower rates of death due to car crashes than the state and nation since 2000, with both seeing steep declines over time (down 14.7 to 11.8 and 14.7 to 6.7 between the years 2000 and 2017, respectively). Fort Bend County experienced the lowest amount of vehicular collision deaths per 100,000 people. Montgomery County has higher rates of vehicular collision deaths per 100,000 people compared to the other counties, state and nation. Fortunately, Montgomery County has seen significant reductions in car crash deaths over time, with death rates dropping by almost 50% to a level only slightly higher than the state and nation in 2017. While these trends are promising, roadway fatalities and injuries for all road users remain a major issue.

6.7 collision deaths per 100,000 people

The 2017 rates in Fort Bend County were nearly half the national rate of 12.9.

Steadily rising violent crime rates threaten progress in the Houston area

The effects of violent crime in our community extend past the victims. High rates of violent crime make people feel less safe and therefore less likely to engage positively with their communities. Further, high rates of violent crime can harm property values and increase stress levels in a given area, negatively affecting physical and mental health and the quality of life in our region.7 Violent crime refers broadly to four specific offenses: aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder

In 2017, there were 124,238 violent crimes reported in Texas, approximately 439 violent crimes per 100,000 people, higher than the national rate of 394 per 100,000 people. Overall, the violent crime rate in the U.S. and Texas has declined since the early 2000s. But, Texas has continued to see a higher rate than the nation as a whole. The gap in violent crime rates between Texas and the U.S. narrowed in the early 2010s but widened again in 2017.

In the City of Houston, a total of 25,609 violent crimes were reported to the Houston Police Department in 2017, a 19% increase since 2000. In 2017, the annual violent crime rate was approximately 1,107 offenses per 100,000 people. While violent crime rates decreased between 2002 and 2015, we see sharp increases from 2015 to 2017.

The number of violent crime offenses reported to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office increased from 4,592 to 8,994 between 2000 and 2017. The number of violent crime offenses reported to Fort Bend County Sheriff Department also increased from 528 to 819; while the offenses reported to Montgomery County Sheriff Department dropped from 754 to 534 cases.8

Rising hate crimes undermine safety in our communities

A hate crime is a committed criminal offense that is motivated entirely or partly by the offender’s bias against a race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender identity.  

Both nationwide, throughout Texas and in the Houston area, hate crimes are on the rise. In 2017, 7,175 hate crime incidents were reported nationwide, compared to 6,121 incidents in 2016, a 17% increase in one year alone.

Among all the incidents reported, 58% were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, 22% were targeted due to religious bias, and 16% were due to a bias relating to sexual orientation.

The number of hate crimes in the state of Texas has increased by 6.7% from 178 incidents in 2016 to 190 incidents in 2017. Of all the major cities in Texas, Austin had the highest number of hate crimes reported at 18, followed by Dallas at 15, Houston at eight incidents and San Antonio at four incidents.

In Houston, the number of hate crime offenses rose 191% from 11 incidents in 2017 to 32 incidents in 2018. Of the 32 hate crimes reported, 15 were anti-race or ethnicity, eight were anti-sexual orientation, eight were anti-religion, and one was targeted due to gender identity bias. 

The growing issue of human trafficking in Houston

Human trafficking is the use of force, intimidation, coercion, fraud or threats in order to exploit victims including men, women, and children. Human trafficking exists in many forms and according to the Human Rights Commission, the three most common types are sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage.9 Sex trafficking occurs when individuals use forms of coercion and intimidation to sexually exploit others and labor trafficking occurs when contractors, employers and others use forms of coercion to force people to work against their will. 

Houston has been identified as a major hub for this exploitative crime, with the state of Texas having the second-highest rate of human trafficking in the nation behind only California. Because of our region’s high levels of diversity, many human trafficking victims are able to go undetected in everyday life, complicating attempts to eradicate this growing global problem. Fortunately, this problem is not going unaddressed. Harris County and the City of Houston have been taking aggressive action against sexually oriented businesses that were involved in sex trafficking. 

In 2019, a total of 11,500 human trafficking cases were reported in the U.S., of which 1,080 cases (9.4%) were reported in Texas. Reported cases increased 137% in Texas from 455 in 2015 – faster than the nation’s growth rate (101%) during the same time period.

“Texas accounts for the second largest number of human trafficking cases in the nation behind California.”

Among the 1,080 cases reported in Texas in 2019, 62% involved adults and 24% involved minors. In addition, 933 cases (86%) involved female victims, 116 (11%) had male victims and three cases involved gender minorities such as transgendered individuals. 



  1. National Research Council (2004). “Executive Summary”. In Wellford, Charles F.; Pepper, John V.; Petrie, Carol V. (eds.). Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  2. American Public Health Association. “Preventing Gun Violence.”
  3. Grinshteyn, E. and Hemenway, D. “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010,” The American Journal of Medicine (2016) 129, 266-273.
  4. CDC, “Key Injury and Violence Data” (2017)
  5. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2015, May). The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010. (Report No. DOT HS 812 013). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (
  6. Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data. (
  7. Stafford et al. 2007.
  8. Crime statistics are reported by each responding agency, including Sheriff’s office and police departments in all small cities. It is difficult to aggregate all crimes outside of the City of Houston.
  9. Texas Department of Transportation (2018). Texas Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Facts (2018). (