Crime Stoppers Victim Advocacy
My mantra has always been Crime Victims are the only unwilling participants in the criminal justice system. Everyone else choses their roles: from law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, parole, probation and most of all the defendants. From my perspective, the very least government can do is to ensure victims rights are protected and that rebuilding their lives is on equal footing as the rights of the perpetrator. Defendants rights and rightfully so are protected and codified in the United States Constitution. Victims rights to date remain a mere courtesy with little teeth to ensure enforcement and practically no ramifications if victims are not apprised of their rights. Hence the crux of the problem.
In June 2018, Crime Stoppers of Houston became the first of its kind nationally to enact a victim services and advocacy program. One of our main objectives is to ensure victims and survivors have a voice in our criminal justice system. I routinely meet with victims and their families to discuss how Crime Stoppers can help bring attention to their case, attend trials and court proceedings and how to empower them to rebuild their lives. In plain words, I am going to do whatever it takes to make our justice system work on behalf of victims of crime.
One of the unique services our program offers that no one else does is to regularly meet with the parole board along with victims to assist in requesting the offender remain in prison. In addition, our organization conducts numerous victim related events throughout the year, including an event for National Day of Remembrance and our Annual Holiday Memorial Tree Ceremony to bring attention to the issues surviving family members of homicide have to endure. Due to COVID-19, I am hoping to reschedule our National Day of Remembrance event to sometime in November 2020. Our organization also coordinates other events for Domestic Violence and Missing Persons.
In Harris County we are fortunate to have over 25 different victim service related organizations to help combat and assist victims of child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence, drunk driving, missing persons, sexual assault and homicide victims. Crime Stoppers is proud and honored to partner with all the agencies that assist victims of crime. Crime Stoppers hosts a quarterly meeting of law enforcement victim advocates to ensure everyone is on top of the issues currently facing crime victims.
At Crime Stoppers, we believe that instead of yelling and screaming about the injustices in our criminal justice it is more prudent to seek solutions and remedies via legislation to enhance public safety and victims’ rights. In the last Legislative session, I pursued a statute that became the first of its kind in the country titled ‘The Sir Romeo Law’. The new law enacted in September 2019; allows families whose children were the victims of attempted murder to apply for relocation expenses from the State’s Crime Victims Compensation Fund administered by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. I named the new law after 4-year-old Sir Romeo Milan who was the victim of random gun violence while watching TV with his Grandmother.
This upcoming Legislative session I will be seeking the following Bills to be enacted into law:
- Enhanced penalties for ‘Celebratory Gunfire’ offenders
- Criminal charges for offenders/defendants who knowingly tamper/remove/destroy their ankle monitor
- Allow the Parole Board discretion on all cases upon denying parole not to review again from 1-5 years. For example, if there is not a deadly weapon finding on the judgement by statute the parole board must review offenders annually when parole eligible.
I would be remiss not to discuss one of the most pressing issues plaguing Harris County: The ramifications of Felony Bond Reform. While Crime Stoppers supports Misdemeanor Bond Reform, we don’t support continually allowing career habitual offenders to repeatedly being granted bonds on multiple felony charges, including murder. To date, at least 61 people have been killed by defendants released on multiple felony bonds, bond forfeiture and or PR (Personal Recognizance) Bonds in Harris County since 2018. Nine of the 61 victims are a result of domestic violence. It is imperative we address this issue next legislative session to curtail what I call the ‘Bond Pandemic’
As the Director of Victim Services and Advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, I firmly believe in the following adage: I can’t go back and change what happened to you and your family, but by advocating on your behalf to make positive changes in our criminal justice system to enhance victims’ rights you will leave lasting legacy.
Remember, what we do in life echoes in eternity and I fully embrace that mantra day in and day out. I am truly blessed and honored to be able to work on your behalf as a Victim Advocate and I am enormously grateful for the opportunity Crime Stoppers has bestowed upon me.
Andy Kahan Director of Victim Services
How to respond in an Active Shooter event.
Offering active shooter training to the community has been a priority for Crime Stoppers for many years. We are proud to have partnered with organizations over the years such as Houston Police Department to offer this valuable education to all.
“Active Shooters, yet another threat to our families and ourselves.”
Twenty twenty has been a year of unforeseen challenges. Covid-19, social unrest, hurricanes, pending political changes, and Active Shootings. It is reasonable to imagine many troubled individuals that have been isolated, lost their jobs, and suffered illness deciding to act out their stress via active shooting.
Thankfully, we have not experienced a significant cry of “defund the police” in Houston, Texas. However, the Houston Police Department has been understaffed for many years. The reality of active shooting is that 60% of active shooting events are over before law enforcement can arrive. Sandy Hook Elementary suffered 26 deaths in 4 minutes.
Should you or your family find yourself in an Active Shooting event, it is critical that you have a survival mindset. This mindset must be established prior to the event. You will not be creative and develop a sound tactical plan in the crisis.
Attending one of the Houston Police Department’s Active Shooter Defense training sessions will provide you with the basic tools by which you can construct your own personal defense of an active shooter. Run, Hide, Fight is the mantra for active shooting defense. This is acquired by understanding the elements of defense and then visualizing them as they apply to the various venues, which you frequent in your normal life.
The training focuses on four areas of life. Public school, college and university, work place and houses of worship. Each is a unique environment, which we are likely to frequent at some point in our lives.
At the first indication of an active shooting event or what you think might be an active shooting event, your first option is to escape (Run), if that is not an option you should hide, as an absolute last resort, you should fight. Understanding the details of Run, Hide, Fight by attending the HPD training, then committing yourself to the visualization exercises, will give you a significant advantage if you become the victim of an active shooter.
A wise idea is to have all of your family (age appropriate) participate in this training. After the training have, a family meeting to discuss how each member should respond if they are in public with the family.
Be an advocate for Active Shooter Defense training. Suggest this training for your children’s’ school, your work, your house of worship.
Be reassured that this training is about using your brain intelligently, not about carrying a firearm. In addition, you learn how to interact with responding officers.
The training provide by the Houston Police Department is free in the city limits of Houston. It is available to all groups. It is real world practical training that will significantly improve your odds of survival. To date four individuals have acknowledged their survival from an active shooter thanks to this training.
For more information, please watch the Houston Police Department’s video on Active Shooter Defense.
This blog post was provided by Stephen Daniel, Senior Community Liaison, Houston Police Department.
Back to School Safety 2020
At Crime Stoppers we know that the 2020-2021 school year will look like no year before. With all the unknowns, uncertainties, and anxiety that may arise from having to make tough and ever-changing decisions, we encourage you now more than ever to lean on community resources. At Crime Stoppers, our mission has been during the pandemic and will continue to be as we enter the school year, to remain at steady resource for our community just as we have been for the past 40 years. We are working hard to provide all programming we have in the past in a safe and accessible manner as well as create new and innovative ways to keep our community safe! The health and safety of your family will always remain our top priority. As we enter this school year in a whole new way, we hope public safety will be in the forefront of your mind. School safety presentations should not fall short on the list of importance. During these unprecedented times, students are facing unforeseen safety concerns as they use devices more than ever before and battling new mental health struggles.
The Safe School Team is paying very close attention to the effect COVID-19 has on students and are modifying our presentation points to fit the current era of concern. We are prepared to use new curriculum and lessons to promote personal safety as students navigate virtually learning, face new cyberbullying trends, and adapt to a school setting without their peers and trusted adults nearby. Educators are often the first people to spot signs of child abuse, recognize when a student is exhibiting signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, and are on the frontlines empowering students to take their physical and emotional safety seriously. At Crime Stoppers, we are working hand and hand with educators, administrators, and school-based law enforcement to provide new information, guidelines and best-practices.
As we start the 2020 Fall Semester, the Safe School Institute is here to assist with all aspects of school safety and prevention. We realize that every district has their own guidelines, procedures, start-dates, and best-practices in the months to come. In turn, we will accommodate the needs for each district accordingly. We will be offering all of our FREE prevention education presentations (Cyber Safety, Human Trafficking, Mental Health, Teen Dating Safety, Substance Use Prevention, etc.) virtually and in-person to continue to support school campuses in this time of need.
The Safe School Institute and the Safe Community Program have a new Menu of Services detailing the presentations offered for students, educators, parents, and the community. There are three new Safe School presentations, and three new Cyber Safety breakout presentations for adults. As times change, come new public safety concerns. In turn, Crime Stoppers of Houston Programs will grow and adapt to keep students and the community safe, informed, and equipped to handle new circumstances.
When scheduling a presentation, please use this link: https://crime-stoppers.org/presentation_request The Presentation Request Form will walk you through the information needed to schedule a virtual or in-person presentation. You will receive an email to confirm your request and ask for any additional information necessary to complete the booking. For virtual presentations, our team can create a presentation link specific to the presentation, date, and time or we can join an existing virtual classroom. If your campus already has an existing procedure in place for virtual visitors/presenters, we will follow accordingly. For in-person presentation, we will follow all health guidelines upon arrival to ensure the health and safety of those around us.
We are all taking on new challenges every day. Crime Stoppers is your resource and solution as we work to educate students, parents, school staff, and the community at large on critical public safety topics impacting your lives every day. We look forward to working with all this school year!
Ramifications of Criminal Justice and Bond Reform
Daniel Musterman was a devoted son and caretaker to his 87-year-old mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Caitlynne Rose was a young mother and was 8 months pregnant. Gregory Brooks had a wonderful sense of humor but he prided himself in taking his education seriously and was proud to be one of the first in his family to go to college. Reginald Larry was on his way to his Grandmother’s house when he stopped to get a drink at a corner store.
What do Daniel, Caitlynne, Gregory and Reginald have in common? All four of them were murdered. The suspects were all released on multiple bonds by Harris County Judges in the past year. And sadly, there are many more.
Crime Stoppers of Houston wants to be perfectly clear: We support Misdemeanor Bond Reform. We recognize and support the need for Criminal Justice Reform. What we don’t support is when public safety is placed at a higher risk when career habitual offenders are continuously released back to the community despite being charged with multiple violent crimes.
In another disturbing note, Crime Stoppers has had to issue rewards on suspects charged with crimes after they have been released on multiple bonds.
Misdemeanor Judges are bound by a Federal Court ruling basically removing cash bail for most misdemeanor charges. District Judges who handle felony cases are not. When a defendant out on felony bond is arrested on a new felony charge, the judge then has discretion whether or not to revoke the original bond or grant him/her a new bond giving them the chance to return to the community once again.
From our perspective, that’s the crux of the problem. Time and time again, we’re seeing the same defendants released on multiple bonds, continually being arrested for additional felony crimes and yet are still getting out of jail on new bonds.
What’s the problem with that? Ask the families of Daniel, Caitlynne, Gregory and Reginald and many others whose loved ones have been murdered by defendants out on multiple bonds, people who have shown their propensity to thumb their nose at the law
The last statistical data I received six months ago from local law enforcement officials indicate over 4,000 defendants have been granted bonds for violent and sexually related offenses.
This is of grave concern to Crime Stoppers and leads to a series of questions that deserve answers:
- How many felony defendants are out on repeat multiple bonds and for what types of offenses?
- How many felony defendants are in bond forfeiture and have been declared fugitives?
- How many defendants committed crimes after a Motion to Revoke the original bond was denied?
- How many defendants have actually had their bonds revoked after being charged with another crime while out on bond?
- How many of our citizens have become crime victims as a result of offenders violating their conditions of bond?
The defendant charged with Capital Murder in the slaying of Byron Handy was on Felony Probation and yet managed to be granted three separate bonds for offenses, all involving the use of a firearm. His bond was not revoked and inexplicably was allowed to remain on probation.
The defendant charged with the slaying of Matthew Franklin was out on bond for three charges of Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon and Aggravated Assault.
The defendant wanted for the murder of Reginald Larry was released on multiple felony bonds including murder and two aggravated assault charges. He was on deferred adjudication while all this occurred, yet was allowed to remain in the community.
The defendant charged with two counts Capital Murder in the deaths of Kevin Kelly and Sylvernia Edwards was out on multiple felony bonds at the time of their killings.
I could go on and on with examples like the above in which our citizens paid the ultimate price for criminal justice and bond reform.
As a victim advocate, it is difficult to explain to families why their loved one was killed. It simply defies logic. What do I tell the family of an 11-year-old boy who was shot by a defendant already out on multiple bonds for murder, evading arrest and unlawfully carrying a weapon? How do I try to put into context what is happening to our criminal justice system to families who are grieving and searching for answers as to why their loved one was murdered?
Public safety is at a higher risk when career habitual offenders are continuously released back to the community. The problem is we have no way of knowing how many offenders fit into this category because Harris County does not keep such vital statistical information.
Everyone who supports criminal justice and bond reform should be demanding to have as much information as possible to determine which measures are working and which are putting the public at risk. All of us who live and work in Harris County should be on the same page on behalf of public safety. Increasing crime rates detrimentally affect all of us. Improving public safety has to be a non-partisan issue.
My mantra as a Victim Advocate for over 28 years is to seek solutions. It would behoove all of us, instead of yelling and screaming about the injustices regarding our criminal justice system it’s time for all of us who have a vested interest in making Harris County safer to get together as a cohesive group and work on positive changes.
Shame on all of us if we fail to take proactive measure to make our community safer: The citizens of Harris County deserve better.
Andy Kahan, Director of Victim Services & Advocacy
The Houston Fire Department Encourages Fourth of July Firework Safety
The Houston Fire Department would like to remind citizens of potential risks associated with the personal use of fireworks- including devastating burns, injuries, fires, and even deaths.
Each July 4th, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using fireworks. Emergency rooms treat thousands of people for fireworks related injuries; half of those injuries were to the extremities and 34% were to the eye or other parts of the head. Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for more than one-third (36%) of the estimated 2018 injuries. These injury estimates were obtained or derived from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2018 Fireworks Annual Report by Yongling Tu and Jason Ng.
In addition, it’s important to remember it is illegal to discharge fireworks in the City of Houston and parts of the county, with fines ranging from $500 – $2000 for each individual firework. If a minor is caught discharging fireworks, the parent or guardian will receive the fine even if they were unaware of the minor’s possession and/or usage.
“Remember that igniting fireworks in the City of Houston is illegal, but even more important is life safety,” says HFD Assistant Chief, Fire Marshal Alfredo Martinez. “ In 2018, fireworks started approximately 19,500 fires in the United States and caused over 9,000 hospital emergency room visits.”
Citizens should also remember that discharging fireworks is illegal near certain locations of unincorporated areas of Harris County, such as near churches, hospitals and asylums, a licensed child care center, or a public or private primary or secondary school or institution of higher education unless the person receives authorization in writing from that organization.
Complaints regarding the illegal use of fireworks should be directed to the HPD Tel-communicator (non-emergency line) at 713-884-3131. If the citizen believes that there may be a fire and/or medical emergency related to the use of fireworks, he/she should dial 9-1-1 and request the HFD.
“Independence Day is a great day for our country,” says HFD Fire Chief Samuel Peña. ” We appreciate the gift and sacrifices made by so many. Let’s promise to be good citizens of our country and help America grow into a better nation each day.”