Houston police chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday that any looters who take advantage of people and businesses affected by Hurricane Harvey will not receive mercy from his department, a sentiment echoed by a number of law enforcement officials managing disaster response along the Texas coastline.
So far, things have been relatively calm; Houston authorities had made only seven looting arrests by Monday night.
Four of the seven people, Acevedo said, were especially bold: hijacking vehicles stranded in flooded areas and booting their owners out into the storm. The other three ran afoul of law enforcement as they were attempting to break into a videogame store.
Worse still, officers in Fort Bend County, near Houston said, there are incidents that law enforcement haven’t been able to follow up on. Fort Bend authorities told a press conference Tuesday morning that they had heard reports of scammers posing as emergency management personnel and encouraging residents to evacuate their homes for higher ground. Once the people leave, the scammers ransack their homes and take their valuables.
Although the reports are unconfirmed, residents should only heed evacuation orders that come from an official communication source or from a uniformed police officer, emergency management officials said.
Cops in Houston have been working around the clock to manage rescue operations and keep the peace — some working as many as 30 hours straight. Regardless, Acevedo had tough words for anyone who tries to run afoul of Houston police: “We’re not going to stop, we’re not going to give up,” Acevedo said. “To the fools out there … don’t come to Houston and victimize our people.”
“We’ve already arrested a handful of looters. We’ve made it real clear to our community we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect their homes and their businesses.” Acevedo went on, “And when people come from the outside to Houston, Texas, know we’re going to be out in the city, we’re not going to rest as a police department or law enforcement community until people restore their lives.”
Harris County had similar harsh words:
Looters and thieves who prey on closed businesses and homes should be on notice that they will be arrested and prosecuted.
— Harris County DA (@HarrisCountyDAO) August 28, 2017
Houston-area prosecutors also say they’re setting strict guidelines for punishing anyone caught and convicted of looting unguarded homes and businesses. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Montgomery County D.A. has issued a warning that its prosecutors will seek jail or prison time for any individual facing charges of looting during the storm.
Texas state law, in fact, “allows for enhanced punishment ranges for certain offenses committed during a declared natural disaster event.”