Dec 6, 2021 - News

Austin's homicides on the rise

Austin's police chief briefs the press following a shooting in downtown Austin.
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon provides an update on overnight shootings in Austin in June. Photo: Austin Police Department via AP

It's been a tragic stretch for murder in Austin's streets this year.

Driving the news: Just after midnight last Thursday, police responded to reports of a shooting and stabbing in the Montopolis neighborhood.

  • Police found a man lying in a parking lot with what a spokesperson later called obvious trauma.
  • He was declared dead by 12:22am.

The death marked the 87th homicide in Austin this year — and an 88th was reported later that day, the fourth in a week.

  • The previous high was 59 in 1984.

The big picture: Crime statistics set the backdrop for a recent referendum — which was soundly defeated — about putting more cops on the streets.

  • Opponents of the proposal, a broad coalition including neighborhood groups and firefighters, argued the price tag — in the hundreds of millions of dollars — would rob other city services, such as libraries and EMS, of money and tie the hands of budget-makers.
  • They also observed that Austin’s murder rate is below record levels given the city's population growth.

But the politics aren't going away.

Hammering police budgets and crime stats is a centerpiece of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's re-election campaign as he prepares for a likely match-up against former Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

  • O'Rourke has already had to distance himself from the defund-the-police movement. Last month he said: "I don't think I've ever advocated for defunding the police."
  • In 2020, Patrick Svitek of the Texas Tribune reported, O'Rourke said: "'I really love that [BLM, others] have put this front & center, to defund' line items, reroute to services & in some cases, dismantle & rebuild forces."

And at the local level, a new Austin police chief is buffeted between progressive city council members and a conservative police association.

All this will bleed into next year's mayor's race, with strategies on policing and affordability sure to dominate the conversation as candidates try to show their progressive bona fides while also reassuring an anxious electorate.

Meanwhile: Petty crime, too, has bedeviled the city.

Yes, but: Austin actually ranked among the safest major American cities in 2020 in terms of violent crime.

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