Criminal JusticeLocal NewsAustin, Houston, Fort Worth Stand Out in Homicide Spikes Among Texas’ Biggest Cities

Urban centers across the country have seen a spike in violent crime since the pandemic began and many have experienced efforts to shrink police departments.
August 9, 2021
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Throughout a nationwide violent crime spike, some of Texas’ biggest cities have come under the microscope — the state capital chief among them.

According to homicide statistics from January through July collected by The Texan, the City of Austin’s homicide total is 68 percent above the year-to-date last year.

The Texan was also informed that one shooting victim is currently on life support and should he succumb to his injuries, that percentage would eclipse 70 percent.

Through the end of July, it was even with the entire 2020 total and in just the first week of August added three more. That puts the current number at 50 with much of the year remaining.

Historically a low-crime city, even a minor raw number homicide increase yields alarming percentage changes. But Austin has been reeling from officer shortages.

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Currently, there are 163 vacancies and the department is 390 officers short of its staffing level from a couple of years ago. The city’s $150 million budget cut and redirection is well known and its recent tension with its police department even more so.

But the staff shortage began long before the budget cut. In March of 2020, the Austin Police Department (APD) was short 150 officers. According to sources close to the situation, APD is bleeding 15 to 20 officers every month which has pulled many officers from special units onto street patrol to compensate for the losses.

“With the budget cut a lot of our proactive policing, the specialized units, have been sent back to do nothing but answer 911 calls,” Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association told The Texan.

Casaday added, “The social justice movement started before the budget cut spurred by the George Floyd incident and pushed for fewer traffic stops, fewer officers in minority neighborhoods because they were ‘overpoliced,’ and sadly over a period of time by removing the proactive policing out of these neighborhoods it’s cause crime to go through the roof.”

According to APD statistics, overall crimes against persons is down slightly, but certain categories like aggravated assault, sexual assault, and kidnapping are up along with homicides. All this is on top of the sharp increases experienced in 2020 compared with the year before.

“If you look at where the crime is spiking,” Casaday concluded, “it’s in these minority neighborhoods.”

Houston, Texas’ largest city, has the second-largest year-to-date increase of 23 percent followed by Fort Worth at 18 percent.

Both cities are still each about 40 percent behind their 2020 totals with about the same percentage of the year remaining.

While Austin was cutting its police budget and making even more drastic reforms, Houston increased its police department budget by $19.4 million.

Being such a highly populated city, Houston’s homicide numbers are greater numerically than Austin’s by a wide margin. But its percentage change is dwarfed by the state capital.

Houston is also suffering from an officer shortage and has long faced consequences of loose bail policies from its municipal judges — often releasing violent offenders from jail who then commit other violent offenses.

The state’s second-largest city by population, San Antonio, is 6 percent ahead of its homicide total at this point last year. The home of the Alamo did not cut its police department funding last year when its Central Texas counterpart did. The city’s voters also rejected a proposition that would have eliminated the police union’s collective bargaining power, while not directly threatening the department’s funding.

Dallas, the outlier of the group, is 12 percent below its homicide rate at this point in 2020. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has become well known for pushing back against “defunding and dismantling police” arguments.

The causes of such rising violent crime rates, most notably the homicide levels, are complex, layered, and long-developing. But law enforcement across the state and nation are often stretched thin with limited resources, and crime is, at least partially, a product of that factor.

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Brad Johnson

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.