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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Emotions tested in a year of crime

The criminal landscape of 2008 reminded all of us how fragile — and strange — life can be.

It was a tragic year for police officers, with the Houston Police Department losing three to violent circumstances. As a result, Texas again led the nation for officer deaths in the line of duty.

2008 also was a tragic year for young children who apparently suffered at the hands of their parents — including a 3-month-old boy found stomped to death in a roadside ditch in Galveston and two Pasadena siblings whose burned bodies were found a week after they disappeared on Father's Day.

And it was a year that will be remembered for the bizarre and the downright ghoulish. Two decapitations grabbed the public's attention — that of a beloved deer housed in a wildlife sanctuary at a west Harris County park, the other of a corpse buried in a Humble cemetery in 1921 whose skull was allegedly used by Kingwood teens as a "bong" device to smoke marijuana.

Few police officers are shocked by anything that people might do. But some agree the emotional lows brought on by this year's crimes will be a tough pill to swallow.

"There's no doubt that 2008, in that regard, were some very emotionally bitter times," said Mark Clark, executive director of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "Everybody gets emotionally scarred by this kind of stuff."

Statistically speaking, crime has not changed all that much. Homicides declined in Houston in 2008, dropping by 15 percent from the year before, based on preliminary numbers provided by the Houston Police Department.

As of Tuesday, HPD had investigated 294 homicides, down from 348 homicides reported during the same period in 2007. The statistics are unofficial since they have not yet been reported to the FBI for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Report.

In the unincorporated areas of Harris County, homicides increased slightly this year, with the Sheriff's Office investigating the deaths of 71 people killed in 2008 — up from 63 in 2007.

And violent crimes as a whole — homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — appeared to hold steady in the unincorporated areas of the county, with the numbers hardly budging from 2007 to 2008, said sheriff's Lt. John Legg.

But statistics don't mean much when officers face unexpected tragedies, such as the violent loss of one of their own. [Mark Godsey]

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