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.
Briefing regarding recent homicides https://t.co/kIRjyTCrPO— Austin Police Department (@Austin Police Department)1604952332.0
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."
Austin experiences highest number of homicides in 20 years. This is why it is absurd that Austin is defunding poli… https://t.co/GSxmp6Asmx— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1604942561.0
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.
This proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department is one strategy I'm looking at. We can't let… https://t.co/N0ZEUeH384— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1599168839.0
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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UPDATE: The Lower Colorado River Authority has found potentially fatal bacteria in the Hudson Bend of Lake Travis, the same area where a dog was found dead after swimming in its waters.
A Sunday night shooting at a North Austin apartment complex has left one dead after being shot by an unknown suspect.
Austin police arrived at the scene of Midtown Commons at Crestview Station apartments at West St. Johns Avenue around 11:30 p.m., where they found a man with a gunshot wound. Police performed CPR but the man died shortly after. The identity of the victim has not been revealed.
Investigators talked to witnesses at the apartment complex and have a suspect in mind. No other information has been revealed at this time.
More vaccines could be headed to Austin as FDA greenlights single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine
This story was updated Monday to include that the vaccine received official approval by the FDA this weekend.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is to be shipped out this week, increasing the number of vaccines available.
In a virtual meeting on Friday, the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee unanimously approved of the U.S.'s third available COVID-19 vaccine, which was officially approved on Saturday. Federal officials say 4 million doses will go out nationally this week, with an expected 20 million doses to be available by the end of March. The Texas Department of State Health Services has said it expects to receive about 200,000 doses, but has not released a timeline of when doses will be shipped and available.