As of Wednesday afternoon, authorities arrested more than three dozen people for looting and related crimes in Houston and the surrounding areas ravished by Hurricane Harvey, while Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo warned criminals against engaging in such behavior.
“This is the state of Texas. We are a welcoming city, but we are not going to tolerate people victimizing others,” Acevedo said in a press conference.
Acevedo also confirmed a group of suspects was arrested Monday night after robbing members of the community at gunpoint.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said, “People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey.”
Authorities announced stiffer penalties for those caught committing such acts during a time of crisis. For example, while a home burglary would typically come with a sentence of two to 20 years, the same crime, committed in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, will now bring five years to life. Acevedo confirmed that he would seek the fullest possible prosecution and sentences for looters and others who aim to re-victimize residents.
“Don’t come to Houston because you’re going to be caught,” Acevedo said, adding. “That’s despicable behavior.”
In an effort to deter such crimes, a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew was put in place Tuesday by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and will remain effective until further notice. Acevedo said no arrests were made during the first night of the curfew.
In addition to looting and robbing, authorities said scammers are going door-to-door pretending to be law enforcement, contractors, or others offering “help.” Some of the scammers are urging residents to evacuate, presumably so they can come back to burglarize their homes, according to reports from the Houston Chronicle. Authorities urged residents to always ask for credentials.
Nonetheless, some of those who have evacuated their homes fear what they will return to, not only in terms of storm damage, but the chaos caused by criminals who came out of the woodwork.
Houston resident Tiffany Duron said when they made their way to a shelter Monday looters were already breaking into her neighbors’ houses, as well a local Game Stop, Dollar Store, and Auto Zone.
“They’re making it worse for everybody,” Duron told reporters.
Duron said there’s nothing of value left in her home and that flood waters had already reached the roof line when she and her family escaped.