(dpp-businesstax/flickr)

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."

(Roschetzky Photography/Adobe)

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