Authorities Are Toughening Penalties To Would-Be Looters

In flooded Houston, with scores of businesses closed and homes evacuated, authorities are sending a message to those thinking of looting or price gouging: Taking advantage of the situation won’t be tolerated.

Police are beefing up security over reports of looting during and after Hurricane Harvey. That includes imposing a curfew and stiffening penalties for crimes committed in the stricken area.

“We’re city that is about diversity and opportunity and all kinds of justice,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “But we’re not a city that’s going to tolerate people victimizing people that are at the lowest point in their life.”

Acevedo said additional police officers were heading into the Houston area and described the curfew as a “tool to assess the intentions of people that are out there.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew is intended to prevent criminal activity. It “exempts flood relief volunteers, those seeking shelter, first responders, and those going to and from work.”

It’s not clear how many criminal incidents have occurred in areas hit by flooding, and the police chief declined to provide statistics. “I don’t have the numbers. I can just tell you … we’re nipping it in the bud,” Acevedo said.

Fourteen people accused of looting were arrested in the past 48 hours, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement released Tuesday. They will face “heftier penalties” if they are found to have broken the law in the disaster area. Burglarizing a home could mean life in prison.

“People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey,” Ogg said. “Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law. … Offenders will be processed around the clock without delay.”

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