People in Austin are stressed out, financially unstable, and stuck at home with nowhere to go—and they're taking it out on each other, Austin police said Friday.
"The calls are getting much, much more violent," said Det. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. "People are at their wits' end. Our robbery and violent crime units are getting swamped with work."
Overall crime reports, mainly property crimes, saw a slight decline in March—the month when residents started social distancing to avoid spread of the coronavirus—compared with the same month last year, according to new city crime statistics released by Austin police this week.
By contrast, violent crimes increased between 15% and 25% as compared to March 2019, according to to the Chief's Monthly Crime Report for March 2020, which lists calls for service in the various city sectors.
Specific numbers for April were not available on Friday, but Casaday said officers began to see the violent upswing almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued in late March.
The biggest jump in violence from February, before people were told to stay home, to March could be seen in aggravated assaults, which include stabbings, drive-by shootings and other serious attacks.
Those crimes saw roughly a 25% increase from February to March, with a similar jump as compared to March 2019, according to the report. Robberies are up about 15% from this time last year, the report showed.
"People are pent up around each other," Casaday said. "When you're not able to go out and have any type of social release, I think this is what you're going to get."
Significantly, March is the month when tens of thousands of visitors descend on Austin for SXSW—historically resulting in more targets for crimes as well as more people committing them.
SXSW was canceled last month, but the numbers are still slightly higher in some categories than March last year, when SXSW attendees partied for more than two weeks.
Homicides are double for the year what they were by now last year, though that increase has been seen monthly since the beginning of the year, according to the report. There were five homicides in March, and four in February, the report said.
Burglaries, car break-ins, shoplifting, theft, vandalism and pick-pocketing are all down between 7% and 36% from this month last year, the report said.
Part of that could be the decreased crowds due to the absence of SXSW tourists, but it also can be credited to people staying home all day, thwarting break-ins and similar crimes, Casaday said.
"Right now is not a time in Texas to be burglarizing homes," he said.
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