Why Does Houston Have A Curfew? Flooding Isn't The Only Thing That Poses A Threat

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In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which has left as many as 30,000 homeowners in Southeast Texas displaced, the mayor of Houston has imposed an indefinite overnight curfew on the city in an effort to keep residents safe — but this curfew isn't necessarily to keep residents out of the flooded streets. According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, the ordinance, which took effect on Tuesday evening, is intended to curb looting and deter crime from people who "may be inclined to take advantage of this situation."

"There are too many people from across our city, too many residents, that are out of their homes and they are in shelters," Turner announced in a press conference. "I don't want them to have to worry about someone breaking into their home or looting or doing anything of that nature while they are away."

According to Turner, the curfew will not hamper relief or evacuation efforts. Aid workers, first responders, people seeking shelter, and individuals traveling to and from work are exempt from the curfew. While the citywide ordinance was initially scheduled to be keep people indoors between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time, it was later updated to begin at midnight so that volunteers could work longer hours.

Recent reports to the Houston Police Department confirm that there is in fact a need for the curfew. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced on Tuesday that his officers have arrested 14 alleged looters since Sunday. The perpetrators have been accused of robbing residents at gun-point and burglarizing local businesses. Additionally, there have been some reports of people impersonating police officers and falsely telling people that they needed to evacuate their areas.

Acevedo said that perpetrators caught looting will face harsher penalties than usual because of a Texas law that imposes stricter punishments for the crime during crises.  

"We are not going to tolerate people victimizing others," Acevedo said.

Imposing a curfew to deter petty theft and looting during natural disasters is not unprecedented in the city. In 2008, a weeklong citywide curfew was instated between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time in Houston after Hurricane Ike caused significant property damage to parts of the city. Vacant homes, abandoned businesses, and desperation in the wake of destruction can make the possibility of crime significantly more likely than usual. Instating a curfew can help keeps streets safer and ensure that residents who have likely already lost so much aren't at-risk of being taken advantage of.

Rains from Hurricane Harvey will continue to hit Houston until at least Wednesday. Mayor Turner has not yet determined an end date for the new curfew.