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Austin saw its 60th homicide of 2021 on Sunday, a 60-year high for the growing city.

After two back-to-back homicides early Sunday morning, Austin reached a 60-year high of 60 homicides this year.

The number is the highest the Austin Police Department has recorded in its 60 years of record-keeping and surpasses the murders in 2020 by 25%, when the city saw 48 slayings.

The numbers came quick early Sunday morning, when police officers responded to a call at the El Nocturno Night Club on 7601 N. Lamar Blvd after reports of gunfire. A man was found with several gunshot wounds at the scene and was later pronounced dead.

Less than 10 minutes later, officers responded to a reported stabbing downtown. When they arrived at the scene, they found an injured man who later died. No more information has come from either report.

According to the Austin-American Statesman's Tony Plohetski, the homicide rate when using 2020 census data is 6.2 per 100,000 residents, up from a previous high of around 5.0 in 2020.

Austin Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the city's "boomtown" growth is now being met with "boomtown" problems.

"This is about us truly becoming a big city," Chacon said. "We are starting to experience big city problems. Having said that, I still think that among the big cities, that we remain one of the safest in the country."

Rising crime in Austin has been part of contentious political debates, including a controversial proposition from Save Austin Now to increase police staffing and statements from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Some politicians have pointed to Austin's police budget cuts following the George Floyd and Michael Ramos protests in the summer of 2020 as the culprit for the city's rise in crime. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said the city is "now one of the most dangerous cities in America and definitely in Texas."

But some, like Chacon, say this is more indicative of a nationwide uptick in violent crime in recent years. According to the most recent FBI crime data, Austins violent crime rate sat at 400 incidents per 100,000 residents, or 28th out of the nation's 30 largest cities, in 2019. The city's murder rate for 2019 sat at 3.2 murders per 100,000 residents in 2019, putting Austin in the middle at 15th among Texas' 25 largest cities.

Still, Chacon worries that murders will only rise as the year's final four months come to a close, and the department responded in May by introducing a Violence Intervention Program aimed at preventing gun violence.

"As we go through criminal justice reform, we cannot forget why we have a police department, which is to keep the public safe," Chacon said. "So, we are looking at public safety through that lens, as well."


(Bob Daemmrich)

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