Houston-area authorities announced Tuesday a new task force to combat a more than 30% rise in road rage incidents this year, an increase that officials are blaming in part on the ongoing stress during the coronavirus pandemic.
The rise in road rage incidents coincides with an overall increase in violent crime in Houston during the pandemic, including a homicide rate that could be the city's highest in nearly 30 years.
"We're not psychologists here at the Houston police department ... but we do know that COVID has had an impact on the collective psyche of the American people," said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. "We know that we've seen a rise across the nation in violent crime. We know we've seen a rise in domestic violence."
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More than 200 road rage incidents in which someone was shot have occurred during the first 10 months of this year, compared to 150 during the same period a year ago, Acevedo said.
Six of these road rage incidents this year have resulted in murder.
The most recent road rage incident in the Houston area occurred on Friday. One man was shot following a minor traffic accident, said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. The man remains in critical condition.
"This year has been very difficult, and there's been a lot of loss both in our community and our nation, and we shouldn't be compounding that suffering with unnecessary carnage on our roadways," Gonzalez said.
Houston police, along with the sheriff's office and other agencies planned to have additional officers on roadways to target aggressive drivers and arrest individuals for reckless driving.
In any road rage cases where a gun is used, authorities will also work to seize vehicles from those arrested, said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
The rise in road rage incidents comes as Houston and other cities around the country have seen an increase in violent crime this year amid the pandemic.
Houston authorities have also partially blamed the rise in crime this year on other issues, including rising drug and gang activity and bail reform efforts they allege have resulted in the release of violent offenders.
In Houston, Acevedo predicted the city could have more than 400 murders by the end of the year. The last time Houston recorded more than 400 murders was in 1993, with 446 homicides.
Family violence crimes were up by 31% this year compared to last, while such crimes committed with firearms were up 41%, according to data reported last month by Houston police.
The spike in crime across the country has defied an easy explanation, according to experts. They have pointed to the pandemic, high unemployment and stay-at-home orders as some of the reasons.
A recent report by the nonpartisan criminal justice think tank Council on Criminal Justice examined crime rates for 28 U.S. cities. It found that homicide rates increased by 42% during the summer and 34% in the fall compared to the summer and fall of 2019. Aggravated assaults went up by 15% in the summer and 13% in the fall of 2020, while gun assaults increased by 15% in the summer and 16% in the fall compared to the same period in 2019.
"Several evidence-based strategies are available to address the increase in violence but subduing the COVID-19 pandemic also remains a necessary condition for reducing violence," according to the report, which was released earlier this month.