Editorial: HPD’s Tact teams got out front fighting bank juggin’ Operations, now hoping for new ‘Predatory Theft’ law

Tom Kennedy

ONCE AGAIN WE SEE THE TREND-SETTING capabilities officers of the Houston Police Department.

Recently the Badge & Gun featured the national recognition bestowed on the HPD Homeless Outreach Team, whose practices used to deal with big-city homeless problems are being studied and copied by other police departments throughout the nation.

It was but one example of HPD leading the way, setting the trends for methods used to help needy people and taking the bad guys off the streets.

Yet another example is featured in this issue. It spotlights HPD’s Tact teams dealing with bank juggin’ activities which have spread from Northeast Houston to banks all over Space City and to suburban environs, other cities and towns across Texas and to other states such as Louisiana and other surrounding states.

In fact, no bank in any city, town or state is immune from the high-reward, low-risk operation in which criminals literally stalk bank customers and pick out their victims based on their toting a bank bag – or “jug” – in plain sight. As the basic game is played, the “juggers” follow the victim to his/her home or place of business and either steal the bank bag out of the vehicle or – worse – confront the victim and take the bag.

Under extreme circumstances – twice in the past two or three years – a bank juggin’ operation has resulted in the death of the victim. The aggravated robbery turned into capital murder. Yet, generally, the juggers must be caught in the act and, when they are, often only misdemeanor or state jail felony charges such as Burglary of a Motor Vehicle are filed, resulting in short jail punishments. To the surprise of no one in law enforcement, results like this underscore the low-risk aspects of this trendy crime. Also, the lack of power in the punishment causes bank juggers to repeat their crime over and over and over again. The rap sheets clearly show they are recidivists in our system.

Only when HPD’s Northeast Tact team members, under the supervision of Capt. Greg Fremin, educated the Harris County District Attorney’s Office about the growing bank-juggin’ trend did it become apparent that a change in the penal code is necessary. The establishment of a so-called “Predatory Theft” law in the robbery section of the code would make bank juggin’ a third degree felony.

As police officers know, stacking third degree felonies in today’s sentencing practices would be quite different from stacking misdemeanors or state jail felonies. Three-time offenders are common in the juggin’ world. But stacking convictions for “Predatory Theft” would heighten the risks. The first would get you two to 10, the second two to 20 and the third 25 to life as an habitual offender.

Inspired by HPD’s Tact teams, the DA’s office – especially Assistant District Attorney Bill Exley – is working out the details. Exley has been a prosecutor for 17 years, and has experience working in criminal investigations due to his time in the Major Offenders Division of Special Crimes.  Exley is currently the division chief of the Asset Forfeiture Division. When the proposal reaches final draft stages, we hope it will go to the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature with support from many citizens and law enforcement agencies across the state. Currently, it’s not against any law to loiter in a vehicle on a bank parking lot and follow a bank customer with cash when they leave that parking lot with the idea of a confrontation or a BMV.

The juggers on the Northeast side may have started this low-risk trend but this strengthening of the law will enhance both the risk and the punishment, taking many crooks off the streets.