Setting a new record in 2021, Austin experienced 88 murders last year.
That’s almost a 90 percent increase from 2020’s total of 47 — itself a steep increase from the year before.
All but one of Texas’ five most populated cities experienced homicide increases. San Antonio’s went up 25 percent, Houston’s 17 percent, and Fort Worth’s 9 percent.
The only trend-breaker was the City of Dallas, which saw a 13 percent decline in homicides.
Month Austin Dallas Fort Worth Houston San Antonio
January 2020 5 15 8 28 14
February 2020 4 7 4 24 11
March 2020 5 19 11 23 9
April 2020 2 13 5 37 11
May 2020 1 23 7 33 10
June 2020 5 21 5 25 16
July 2020 6 25 7 29 12
August 2020 4 21 12 35 10
September 2020 3 24 11 41 9
October 2020 5 33 12 52 5
November 2020 5 28 8 41 9
December 2020 2 25 9 37 12
January 2021 5 18 11 35 13
February 2021 6 22 10 31 12
March 2021 9 13 12 34 8
April 2021 8 17 8 42 11
May 2021 6 16 6 50 12
June 2021 10 16 15 46 13
July 2021 4 20 6 26 12
August 2021 5 19 5 41 12
September 2021 12 17 10 45 15
October 2021 11 25 9 66 9
November 2021 10 19 7 34 22
December 2021 2 18 9 29 21
Total 2021 88 220 108 473 160
Total 2020 47 254 99 405 128
2021 % Change Over 2020 Total 87.23% -13.39% 9.09% 16.79% 25.00%
Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia attributed the city’s breakthrough to “a balanced approach that includes consultation with criminologists.”
Garcia’s department focused more intently on hotbed pockets of crime within the city, increasing the police’s visible presence in those areas and increasing seizures of guns. At the same time, Garcia said, the department pulled back from arresting individuals for lower-level offenses.
Robberies and aggravated assaults became particular focuses for law enforcement.
That city also received something the others did not: back-up from the state.
In November 2020, Governor Greg Abbott deployed state troopers to Dallas to assist local law enforcement. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson applauded the move, saying, “I am grateful for the governor’s willingness to assist Dallas as we combat the unacceptable increases in violent crime in our city.”
Where Dallas saw improvement, the other large cities in Texas trended in the opposite direction — to varying degrees.
Austin, after two years of public safety and policy turmoil within the police department and community, featured the sharpest increase. Struggling with attrition caused by internal discontent, city officials’ rhetoric and policies about the police, and disgruntlement from portions of the community, the Austin Police Department (APD) has been straining to fill the holes left by departures.
The department’s response time to urgent calls is around 8 minutes and APD operates well below its 774 authorized patrol positions daily. The point at which attrition really sped up can be traced to the city council’s $150 million budget cut and redirection, part of which included axing funding for 150 patrol positions. But attrition issues predated even that.
The department dismantled specialized units, sending those officers back into regular street patrol to fill the gaps.
And where Dallas Mayor Johnson has sounded the alarms on violent crime, Austin Mayor Steve Adler has acknowledged concerning trends while also shrugging off other public safety concerns as “right-wing misinformation.” Eighty-eight murders in a year is far lower than Chicago, which can experience such a total in one weekend, but the increase is substantial.
The next closest city to Austin in terms of rate increase is San Antonio.
“This increase follows a trend seen nationally from 2019 to 2020, when the nation reported a 30% increase in homicides — the largest single-year jump in 60 years,” a spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department said in a statement to The Texan. “Locally, San Antonio is still a safe city. Most homicides contain a nexus to risky behaviors that can be avoided, with the exception of family violence.”
He then stipulated, “If you’re not engaging in risky criminal behaviors, your chances of becoming a victim of violence are very low.”
Fort Worth experienced a 27-year high in homicides in 2021.
Meanwhile, city with the largest number of 2021 murders is Houston, which faced 473.
This sparked a new Harris County initiative to study crime in the state’s most populated metropolitan area.
Crime Stoppers of Houston, an organization that tracks violent crime levels and particularly homes in on lax bail policies that allow repeat and violent offenders out of jail, will increase their bail bond tracking and supplement it with court monitoring. According to the group, more than 150 people have been killed by suspects out of jail on personal recognizance bonds.
The City of Austin has a similar bond policy, in place since 2017, which prioritizes personal recognizance bonds for indigent offenders.
Responses to the crime surge and police defunding campaigns have varied. Austin voters rejected a ballot proposition last November aimed at setting a minimum staffing level that would have increased the authorized staffing level of the department automatically. City leaders like Adler opposed the measure, while the new police chief, Joseph Chacon, remained neutral.
But this month, Chacon unveiled a new crime response study that recommends adding authorization for 108 patrol officers in order to shave urgent call response times to 6 minutes and 30 seconds.
Dallas cut some overtime pay for its officers.
Meanwhile, when pressured to make cuts to its police department, the City of Houston increased its police budget in 2020 after the height of protests swept across the state and nation.
Crime trends are not directly correlated with police budgets, and the crime increase has hit nearly every city across the nation as community discontent spikes in line with the pandemic. But a medley of bail policies, police staffing issues, and the pandemic is making it generally more difficult to respond to crime where it occurs and to snuff it out whenver possible.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.