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Austin Crime Rates Dropped 10 Percent Last Year, More Than Any Major U.S. City, Study Finds

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT

From the Texas Tribune: Urban crime rates are at historic lows across the country, and in Texas they are still dropping, according to an analysis of crime rates in the 30 largest U.S cities.

Between 2014 and 2015, the five largest cities in Texas saw an average drop of 6.5 percent in the overall crime rate per 100,000 residents, according to the analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. 

Among the nation’s top cities, crime rates remained stagnant during this time, dropping by only 0.1 percent.

With an almost 10 percent drop in its crime rate, Austin saw the sharpest decrease in Texas and the nation.

“Austin is just a safe city,” said Lt. Justin Newsom of the Austin Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit. “It has its moments where bad things happen, obviously, but overall, with the population growth that we’ve had, we’ve been real fortunate.”

The city’s murder rate also had the largest decline, falling 33 percent while the average murder rate of all 30 cities in the study grew, the report states.

While unable to pinpoint a cause for Austin's decrease, Newsom said several city initiatives might be helping.

“APD’s very responsive to real-time data,” Newsom said. “When there’s any type of increase in any type of crime, we put resources towards that right away.”

In the 30 largest cities in the country overall, the report found, the rate of violent crimes rose by 3 percent and the murder rate grew by 13 percent. In Texas, violent crime remained steady and the murder rate decreased more than 1 percent.

The national increase in murders was attributed mainly to rises in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor,” the report states.

Murder rates also vary widely from year to year, the report said, because the rates are generally so low that a small increase can lead to a large percentage change.

In Houston, there was less overall crime and the violent crime rate decreased, but the murder rate jumped 23 percent, from 10.8 murders per 100,000 residents in 2014 to 13.3 in 2015, according to the report.

“The number, even though it’s going up, is still within the range of normal, so it’s not a concern in that regard,” said Capt. Dwayne Ready of the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division. “Those increases come on the heels of a very low [rate] overall.”

In 2011, Houston had 198 murders, the least since the FBI began reporting citywide crime data in 1985. Since then, the murder rate in Houston has increased each year, with 303 in 2015.

“The numbers do go up and down,” Ready said. “We’re a long way from the '80s.”

In Texas and in the nation, crime spiked in the late '80s and early '90s. The national crime rate is now half of what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter less than it was at the turn of the century, according to the report. In 1991 in Houston, there were 608 murders, the highest since recording began, according to FBI statistics.