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Crime & Justice

Austin’s Had A Record Number Of Murders This Year, But The Murder Rate Is Still Lower Than In The 1980s

Austin police officers huddle during a briefing before the start of the ACL festival in 2019.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
With months still left in 2021, Austin has recorded 60 homicides, the highest number the city has had in a year since the police department began keeping track.

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Sixty people have been murdered in Austin so far this year, marking a record number of homicides since the police department began keeping count in the 1960s.

In 1984, Austin recorded 59 murders, which was the previous record.

“Unfortunately, I think this trend might continue, probably will continue, and we need to do everything that we can as a community … to stop that number from growing,” said Austin Police Department's interim Chief Joseph Chacon at a virtual press conference Monday.

Of the 60 murders so far this year, he said 49 have been solved. He said the department has added two detectives to its homicide unit, bringing the total number of detectives to 14.

But the number of murders per population size remains lower than it has been in past decades. Currently, Austin has recorded roughly six murders per 100,000 people. (KUT used 2020 population numbers, since 2021 estimates are not yet available, so it’s likely this rate is lower.)

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Austin regularly had a murder rate of nine to 10 murders per 100,000 residents.

On Monday, Chacon blamed the rise in murders on several factors. He pointed to a corresponding increase in gun violence and what he classified as a shortage of police officers. He also said a number of murders had been committed by people who had been arrested and then released on bonds.

Since 2018, the number of full-time sworn officers employed by APD has decreased by 5%, or about 100 officers.

“[Officers are] running from call to call and do not have an opportunity for proactive police work," Chacon said. "[That] has decreased ... officer presence and has provided opportunities for people to commit these acts of violence."

When asked to further clarify his comments, Chacon said many of this year’s murders started as “interpersonal disagreements,” and that if officers had been able to intervene earlier, the incidents might not have turned so violent.

Voters will be asked in November if the city should require a minimum of two police officers per 1,000 residents. Currently, the city employs about 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents. Save Austin Now, the group behind the petition effort, has linked Austin's rising number of murders to a decreasing police force.

Got a tip? Email Audrey McGlinchy at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.

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