Austin saw an increase of 10 homicides—or 53%—in the first seven months of this year compared to the same time last year, according to monthly crime statistics released by the Austin Police Department.
There were 29 homicides as of July 31, with six homicides in the month of July, including the killing of demonstrator Garrett Foster at a downtown Austin protest and a woman who was killed outside her home around 3 a.m.
Last year, there were 36 homicides for the whole year. The highest homicide count Austin has seen in recent memory was 40 in 2016. The following year, the number dropped to 27.
The spike comes at a time when the number of homicides is increasing in big cities across the country, when unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression, when Austin grapples with homelessness policies and drug interdiction that leaves more drugs and people suffering mental illness on the streets, and when citizens are demanding police reform in the wake of violent clashes between officers and anti-brutality demonstrators.
Last week, the Austin City Council cut 5% of the police budget—$21 million that cuts 150 currently vacant officer spots at the police department, among other items—with promises to cut another $130M next year and reallocate those funds and duties to other departments of the city.
Chief Brian Manley and other police advocates say the increased number of homicides and certain violent crimes show that the city needs more police protection, not a cut in personnel.
"There is strong community support for police reform but not cutting cops when violent crime is increasing and response times are slower," said Corby Jastrow, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission.
Overall, violent crime in the city has increased 1% over last year, and property crimes are down 3%.
Aggravated assaults, which include assaults that cause serious bodily injury and those committed with a deadly weapon, are up 17% over last year.
Robberies (9%), arson (23%) and burglaries (8%) are also up from the same time last year, the statistics show.
Car thefts have also increased by 31% for the first seven months compared with last year, the report says.
In mid-July, when the crime report for June 2020 was released, Austin police Lt. Jeff Greenwalt of the department's homicide and aggravated assault division told Austonia that the city has been studying what's causing the homicide numbers to go up since police began seeing an uncharacteristic spike in homicides in January and February.
It's hard to make projections or trace the causes of homicide based on what he called "small snapshots of data," he said, because they tend to be personal conflicts as opposed to random acts of violence and are harder to trace to a single trend.
"It's just one of those things that we're going to have to wait and see how it ends up at the end of the year," he said, acknowledging that the numbers could be "a little bit high" by then. "Hopefully if there is an underlying cause, we'll be able to say what that is, but right now, it's just a lot of random arguments."
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."