A Wall Street Journal analysis of homicide rates found that, of the most populated cities in America, three Texas cities make the top four in the highest increase in homicide rates thus far through 2020 compared with the same time in 2019.
Austin tops the list with an almost 65 percent increase, followed by Fort Worth at number three with 42 percent, and San Antonio fourth with 34 percent.
Raw numbers-wise, Austin’s homicide count this year totals 23. Meanwhile, Fort Worth has had 37 homicides and there have been 71 in San Antonio.
Other Texas cities had higher homicide counts that amounted to a lower rate increase. Houston topped the list of Texas cities with 178 homicides, a 27 percent increase, and Dallas follows with 117, a 2.5 percent decrease compared with last year.
Chicago topped the list for the raw number of homicides with 433 through 2020.
Robbery rates have also increased significantly in San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth.
Crime in the U.S. has declined significantly since the 1990s, especially as America’s cities became safer places to live.
Texas has experienced a similar crime decrease. Notably, at its peak in the 1980s, Texas was above the national per capita average.
Overall, in every category and at both the state and national level, crime has almost exclusively decreased since its highs in the late 1980s.
From 2008 to 2018 exclusively, Texas saw a decrease in crime overall, with a significant drop in property crime and a stagnation in violent crime. And from 2017 to 2018, the state’s murder rate declined 6.2 percent.
In many of America’s big cities, especially Austin, there is a push to defund the police that has been sprouting for years, but has gained steam after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
According to APD records, 38 people were arrested in Austin during the first weekend of the George Floyd protests, parts of which morphed into riots.
Lieutenant Jeff Greenwalt, with the Austin Police Department’s (APD) Homicide Unit, told The Texan, “January started higher than usual with homicides, but because Austin has such a low rate of homicides usually, a few extra can skew the percentages.”
“Where we end up at the end of the year will be the best sign of if there’s a problem or not,” he added.
Currently, Austin has four more homicides than it did at this time last year, Greenwalt stipulated. He further said that there are no commonalities between the cases, but consist of drug/alcohol-related conflicts as well as interfamilial violence. Additionally, Greenwalt stated that the Aggravated Assault Unit has seen a large spike in cases issued to them.
Each week the department reallocates resources based on the best available picture of where the problem areas reside, but that can change significantly from week to week.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and we always seem to be behind the hiring curve,” Greenwalt added about the lingering vacancies within the APD, “but the [efforts to cut department funding] are only going to make that worse.”
Austin’s city manager proposed an $11 million cut to the APD budget, but the city council is still considering whether to increase that. Defund-the-police activists in Austin have pushed for 25 and 50 percent cuts to the department’s $400 million budget.
Houston, despite similar pushes, increased its police budget this year.
The Austin city council may punt the decision to next year, but even despite that, APD is facing the same struggle many departments are across the country: a recruiting deficiency leaving many positions unfilled.
One of Austin’s homicides came at the hands of Dylan Woodburn, a homeless man who had been let out of jail on personal recognizance bond weeks before he killed someone at a Freebirds restaurant during a psychotic episode.
Bail reform is another cause du jour of the same advocates pushing for police defunding, and directly corollary to another of Austin’s biggest issues: its growing homelessness problem.
Throughout all of its turmoil, 2020 has brought a concerning spike in homicides, with Austin topping a list nobody wants to lead.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.