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(Charlie L. Harper III)

Three murders occurred in Austin this weekend, bringing the total number committed in 2020 to 44.

This marks a more than 40% increase compared to this time last year and at least a 10-year high, Austin Police Department Lieutenant Jeff Greenwalt said Monday.


Despite the "fairly significant" increase, Greenwalt doesn't believe the trend is concerning.

"In comparison to any other large city and any other city our size, we're very, very safe," he explained.

Most of the murders that have occurred in Austin this year have been connected to robberies or domestic violence.

"We see all the same types of murders that we've seen in years past," Greenwalt said. "It might be a long endeavor to analyze all of the underlying reasons why this is happening."

In a tweet on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott linked the increase to a recent effort by Austin City Council to "reimagine public safety."

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, Austinites turned out in droves to protest police violence. Many also lobbied City Council to cut APD funding and reallocate the dollars toward other services, such as mental health response.

In August, council cut approximately $20 million—or around 5%—of APD's budget. Members also put an additional $130 million into two transitional funds that will allow several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials work out which responsibilities to move out from under police oversight.

Abbott and other state GOP leaders have been sharply critical of the effort to defund police in Austin and other big Texas cities.

In August, they announced legislation that would hamstring cities' ability to raise property taxes if they cut police budgets will be a priority in the upcoming session, which begins in January. The next month, Abbott tweeted that he was considering a legislative proposal that, if passed, would put APD under state control.

Greenwalt disputed the notion that local policy had anything to do with the increase in violent crime.

"We saw a rise in violent crime in the very early months of 2020, before the reimagine and defunding conversations came up," he said. "I don't think that we can say that the numbers in 2020 are reflective of that issue."

But Greenwalt also welcomed state support, explaining that the reallocation of funds could lead to a sustained increase in violent crime next year if certain support services are cut back.

"If we do, I think the Austin Police Department would welcome any outside agency that could help us keep the community safe," he said. "If it reduces violent crime, if it makes Austin a safer place, then it's a good idea."

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