Crime prevention: Harris County Violence Persons Task Force, VIPER, passes to track down wanted criminals

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) — There are more than 50,000 people in Harris County who are wanted by police, including more than 700 people who are wanted for murder.

The Harris County Commissioners Court passed the creation of a new task force that will be aimed at tracking down and arresting the most violent offenders.

The Harris County Violence Persons Task Force, or VIPER, consists of deputies from both the sheriff’s and constables’ offices.

“VIPER will help ensure public safety that must be addressed,” Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “Putting a stop to the culture of not feeling there are any consequences for criminal activity.”

Two months ago, ABC13 investigated the backlog of warrants, which the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is overwhelmed with.

While other agencies can also run warrants, our investigation revealed just 17 investigators and sergeants within HCSO criminal warrant division are responsible for finding wanted offenders.

This means, that only more than a dozen people look for more than 25,000 suspects wanted for felonies. According to HCSO, they receive 6,000 new warrants per month, and the statistics reveal they can’t keep up.

VIPER will add much-needed staff, whose purpose will be to track down and arrest the most violent offenders in Harris County.

The task force will be made up of two teams, each team will consist of 4 deputy constables and 4 deputy sheriffs.

In February, ABC13 reported there were 25,292 open felony arrest warrants. As of May, there are now 25,280 people wanted for felonies.

In February we reported there were 706 people wanted for murder. Currently, there are 717 people wanted for murder or capital murder, according to HCSO.

Sheriff Ed Gonzales has previously asked for more staffing to help tackle the mounting pile of arrest warrants. In February, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court passed a $2.1 billion budget, but not a single dollar was approved to add more staff to the warrant’s division.

“To us, this represents a really important opportunity for public safety here in Harris County,” HCSO Sheriff Gonzalez said. “Those individuals are likely roaming our streets every day. We want to make sure we are sending a collective message, as a community, as leadership here in Harris County, that’s unacceptable. We don’t want you to sleep comfortably and lay your head at night, believing no one is looking at you and you can hide, and commit other crimes.”

The Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously 4-1 in favor of the task force.

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