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Austin police seek to increase prosecution of violent gun crime as homicides pile up

Police file photo. (Christa McWhirter)

As local violent crime rates continue to rise, the Austin Police Department launched a gun crime prevention program in partnership with the Travis County District Attorney's Office on Friday. It will continue through the end of August and aims to increase prosecution of violent offenses by tracking gun crime trends more closely and referring cases to federal law enforcement where appropriate.


Homicides in Austin, mid-April

There have been 23 homicides in the city of Austin this year, compared to 16 this time last year and 9 in mid-April of 2019, according to APD. The most recent occurred on Wednesday evening, when Kedarius Griffin was shot while in his car after a disturbance near the McDonald's at Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane. His passengers—a pregnant woman and four children—were uninjured despite being in the car at the time of the shooting.

As part of the program, APD will work with federal partners, such as the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives Task Force and the U.S. Attorney's Office, to investigate perpetrators of violent crimes, seize illegally possessed guns and increase the number of federal referrals.

Homicides are up nationally, which experts say could be due to myriad reasons, including last summer's protests, increasing gun purchases and the economic recession caused by the pandemic.

"I won't say it's unprecedented, but it's very, very concerning," Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said during a press conference. "We haven't seen these types of homicide waves since the '90s."

Although not all violent crime involves guns, gun violence is increasing and may involve stolen guns or illegally manufactured "ghost" guns. "I'm just very concerned about the number of illegally possessed firearms and how we can curb that," Chacon said.

In addition to working with federal partners, APD is collaborating with the Travis County District Attorney's Office on this program. District Attorney José Garza took office in January after campaigning on a progressive platform, promising to end cash bail for nonviolent offenders and hold police officers accountable for misconduct. He also said he would focus on violent crime; since January, his office has secured more than 300 indictments for violent crimes, including a first-degree murder charge for APD Officer Christopher Taylor, who shot and killed Mike Ramos last April.

"From day one, our office has been clear that we take violent crimes very seriously," Garza said in a statement.

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