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Chacon addresses rise in murders, calls it a 'national phenomenon'

Interim Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon addressed the murder count in a press conference on Monday.

Interim Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon said Monday that several factors are driving Austin's record high number of homicides this year and that "we need to do everything we can as a community... to stop that number from growing."

Austin saw its 60th homicide over the weekend at a nightclub on North Lamar Boulevard, breaking a record set in 1984 when 59 people were murdered in the city. Murders are up 74% over last year in the city as of the end of August—for which Chacon blamed the number of guns circulating in the city, as well as the release from prison of people previously convicted of violent crimes.

Chacon said that 49 of the city's murders have been solved and that the department has "very solid leads" on several of the eleven homicides that remain unsolved. APD has increased the size of its homicide unit from 12 to 14 detectives in response to the gun violence, and Chacon said that the department may continue to shift personnel to meet its policing needs.

In general, Chacon, who is a finalist for the permanent police chief job, wants to see more police officers on the streets. But the department's staffing issues predate the pandemic and were further affected when police cadet classes were halted last year (resuming in June this year) and as officers are out after contracting COVID.

In November, Austin voters will vote on a proposition to add hundreds of officers to the department—a measure that opponents say doesn't address the root causes of crime.

But the increase in murders is not specific to cities that cut their police budgets last summer, rather, it is part of a nationwide pattern that experts have linked to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This really is a national phenomenon," Chacon said. "It is something that is being seen by big cities all across the country. We are collaborating as cities to determine what the driving factors are for why that's happening, but it is not something that is unique to Austin."


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