Our Response to the False Reports of Noncooperation
Response from Justin Vickrey, Chairman, Crime Stoppers of Houston
As Chairman of Crime Stoppers of Houston’s board of directors, I’ve been reflecting on the problems at hand with rampant violent crime going unfettered in Harris County and we are once again finding ourselves providing comment on baseless attacks derived in political theater. Crime Stoppers of Houston (CSoH) has stayed consistent in its mission for 42 years. What has changed is the current political environment and recent efforts to politicize crime. As the election season comes upon us and crime remains the #1 issue, we are left wondering like everyone else when the focus will be on crime rather than Crime Stoppers.
We have heard that crime is not very bad, and Houston is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the per capita murder rate. Tell that to the 1,880 murder victims and their families over the last 3-1/2 years alone. Of those, there is immense agony among families of 181 victims who know their loved one would still be here had the repeat violent felony offender who murdered them was held accountable as a danger to society and detained. The 207 victims killed this year equates to 355 victims by year-end if this awful trend does not cease and would be a 5% increase over 2021. The pain these poor families have had to endure, is only exacerbated by seeing these perpetrators free without any threat of justice for four plus years due to the overwhelming criminal court backlog.
Earlier this year, CSoH was made aware of two targeted pieces being written against the organization, which we were told would be used against us in Commissioners Court. Even though CSoH gave the reporters an abundance of information and attention, which took valuable time away from our mission, the plan unfolded like clockwork with the New York Times and Houston Chronicle releasing essentially the same pieces within hours of each other on the same exact day.
This was followed by a call from Commissioner Ellis to “audit Crime Stoppers” dating back “ten years.” Harris County Auditor’s Office (HCAO) reached out to CSoH shortly thereafter and let us know they are an impartial party to the audit process. They shared that the ten-year request was not reasonable and we were feeling the ramifications of the political climate. We were then told we would have to give permission for the audit and that it should be limited to our four-year record retention policy. CSoH pulled documents on all gifts from Harris County during that four-year period and not one had a right to audit clause.
Regardless, as good partners, CSoH gave the HCAO a full book of requested information and had multiple calls and emails with them. Our most recent meeting was on August 31st to discuss their “initial draft” of the audit. They let us know their only suggestion to Commissioners Court was the county has been inconsistent with its grant documents and a right to audit clause should be included on all grant documents moving forward, not just CSoH. While we still had no obligation to proceed, CSoH was willing to provide additional supporting information once we were made aware sensitive items such as our account numbers could be redacted. The HCAO committed to an extension in late October, the report would be clearly shared in draft form with the Commissioners, and well noted the final version would be forthcoming. They thanked us and stated they looked forward to wrapping up the final report once everything was received.
Less than two weeks later, rather than tabling any discussion on an incomplete 17-page report, it was used as another excuse to attack yesterday even though it showed absolutely no issues with CSoH.
Through the entire process, we were operating under their own repeated statements that the HCAO was impartial and not there to serve any political agenda of Commissioners Court. Clearly, the recent Houston Chronicle story indicates the commitment to impartiality by the HCAO was not honored through their participation in an interview with the same reporter that wrote one of the previously targeted pieces. It appears this entire process was nothing short of an act in political theater that we have no interest in participating in.
CSoH undergoes an independent audit every year by one of the most respected non-profit CPA firms in the U.S. The requirement for CPA firms to report every single detailed note in an audit, both good and bad, is extraordinarily high. As an open book, these reports live on our website along with our IRS Form 990.
Our CEO has been unfairly targeted. The attention to her salary is one thing, but the repeated attacks against her, such as having people take photos of her home and including them in online stories, are actions that are dangerously motivated. It’s inexcusable. Regarding her pay, Rania has served the organization above and beyond these past 16-years, with the last 9-1/2 leading our staff. She has expanded all programming including prevention, helped build and fully fund the first Crime Stoppers headquarters anywhere in the world, and implemented a mobile app for tips available in over 20 languages. Rania and her team have created a system to train an entire state on school safety while increasing public safety conversations throughout. In addition to holding a master’s degree and juris doctorate, her role is a demanding one often requiring her time well past the typical 8-5 work schedule 7 days a week.
The focus and comparison on her salary misrepresents the facts and omits several others. Her salary, as determined by the Board of Directors, is well within the norms of nonprofit CEOs (which has been purposefully left out of this repeated reporting). Misrepresenting her salary while comparing it to the base salary of elected officials is another strategic move. Rania does not have a security detail, driver, or the very healthy 225% pension match Harris County employees receive. That said, should one want to review what Harris County employees make, you’ll find governmental salaries, some of whom are in a supportive position rather than leadership, make up to $100,000 more per year in base salary alone (without benefits) than Rania’s total compensation with benefits.
Additionally, the Houston Chronicle reporter covering CSoH, when sitting with Rania and reviewing her long-time history with the organization, dismissed her commitment, diminished her value and stated she could take a $10 per hour internship since her husband is a wealthy doctor (referring to her first position with CSoH). This sexist and misogynistic statement has no place in this day and time, let alone from a reporter tasked with writing an “objective” story on CSoH.
The Houston Chronicle has a history of writing stories pertaining to CSoH without our involvement. Rania was asked for comment via email less than one hour before yesterday’s piece was released. The reporter’s story had clearly already been written with no interest in what we had to say to counter the narrative.
The Conflation of Bond Reform
As a reminder, CSoH has always supported misdemeanor bond reform since the beginning. We, like most other Houston leaders, have simply been against the repeated release of violent repeat felony suspects. The application of the ideals of misdemeanor bond reform to violent felony cases is a major issue ravaging our great city. To see all those who also agree with us, go to https://crime-stoppers.org/standingforpublicsafety (#standingforpublicsafety)
The Real Story
If you speak up with facts that are antithetical to what some in county leadership profess, you will likely be targeted and attacked. That should be alarming for everyone reading this. We understand the political season has been ramping up for months now, but crime is the number one issue and targeting those who are working hard to reduce crime is not a winning strategy. Those trying to silence CSoH, wear down our CEO and staff, or hurt our partnerships are failing. For the sake of the community we all claim to serve, please close the curtain on the political theater and let’s get to work on solving these major crime problems at hand.
As for victims, partners, donors, or community members who have any questions on the latest story or any other story on CSoH, we are all here personally to answer them. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted byon 15 Sep 2022