Safety Issues in Houston:
Houston is considered a metropolitan city and crime is definitely an issue. The major crimes are identity theft, auto theft, theft and burglary, robbery, assault, rape and murder.
While some neighborhood areas are well-known for high crime rates and a lot of gang activity, such as Greenspoint (north at I-45 between Houston and Spring) or the Wards (east of downtown Houston), any location in Houston can be dangerous and one should never be unprepared or unaware.
It doesn’t matter whether it is daytime or night, many burglaries are committed during the day when homeowners are at work. An ex-pat at work all day should install an alarm and keep all blinds closed when not at home. Having a radio running loud can also help to keep away intruders, or keep a dog.
Also, don’t leave valuables such as a purse or a navigation system visible in your car; hide them in the glove box or under a blanket on the rear seat or lock valuables in the trunk of your car whenever you leave the car.
Everyone, but women, in particular, should always be aware of their surroundings and look around when exiting or entering their car or home.
Houstonians are also very concerned about child predators and it is common for children to be driven to school rather than be allowed to walk, even if the school is nearby.
Traffic is also an issue and many areas do not provide safe sidewalks or street crossings. Many expats are used to walking to stores or work and you will see some people do so, but caution needs to be taken when walking near or crossing a street. Most Houstonians do not pay much attention to pedestrians and to avoid an accident, the pedestrian needs to be cautious.
For new expat drivers, safety can also be an issue as they are not used to the many trucks on the road or being passed on the right. It is always required to do a shoulder-look before changing lanes. Houstonians don’t always use their turn signals and it requires defensive driving on the part of others to avoid incidents.
Turning right on a red light is allowed when there is no traffic and it can make newcomers uncomfortable to do so. Best, drive with a co-worker or friend first and have the Houston traffic and the drivers’ habits explained in practice before trying to drive yourself right away.
Personal Protection and Self-Defense
Women should carry some type of weapon for defense and pepper spray is the most popular item.
For personal protection, many Houstonians own some type of weapon for defense, such as pepper spray or even a firearm. Anyone purchasing a handgun in the U.S. has to undergo a background check. Expats may not be able to purchase one and those who are not permanent residents or non-citizens of the U.S. will not be able to get the Concealed Hand Gun license (CHL) which allows carrying a handgun in public. Be aware that people do carry loaded handguns and will use it for self-defense. Try to avoid confrontations.
It is also recommended to take part in a Self-Defense Class which is held at many martial arts classes in Houston (see the Sport section). Women should take advantage of the R.A.D. classes (Rape Aggression Defense) which are held all over Texas, for example at community colleges or even at some companies at work. Check your local paper for courses in self-defense that are regularly available.
Good resources for alarm permits, crime prevention, and statistics within the city limits are on the Houston Police Department website, http://www.houstontx.gov/police/index.html. Visit the site to learn how you can be aware and protect your family and yourself from crime.
For home safety, a wired or wireless alarm system is strongly recommended. One should also install a smoke detector and possibly even a Carbon Monoxide Detector and check the batteries on a regular basis.
A lot of the homes also have gas stoves and some ex-pats may not be used to this type of range. Be careful when cooking foods that can spray oil. Always turn off the gas when leaving for a longer period of time. If you smell gas, leave the house immediately and call 911.
Becoming a victim of identity theft is always a risk. Don’t give out your information openly. You may be busy trying to get set up in Houston and need to make calls at work or somewhere else in public. Don’t forget about your surroundings, though, and try to stay private when talking on the phone and when giving out your address or any other information. Keep your documents safe.
Women should carry their purses zipped and closed and tightly on their bodies. Have only the necessary information in your purse and keep the rest at home in a safe place.
Watch your surroundings around ATMs and when paying with a debit/check card at counters and hide your hand when typing in the pin.
Check your mail regularly and don’t throw away any documents with your name. Every household should have a shredder for personal information.