Property crimes were up in April over last year, but violent crimes were down, as Austin residents settled deeper into quarantine mode during the first full month the city was shut down to avoid spread of the coronavirus, according to a new report from Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
The April numbers, released this week in the Chief's Monthly Crime Report, count the number of times police were called for crimes ranging from homicide to gambling.
They appear to tell the story of a city hunkering down and staying off the streets—with fewer crimes like pick-pocketing and shoplifting, fewer violent incidents, and more property crimes that are easier done with no one around.
There's also an overall 38% drop, compared with April 2019, in crimes typically encountered by patrols or neighborhood watch groups: weapons violations, drug charges, prostitution, gambling and other violations known as "crimes against society."
"It all has to do with people not being outside," said Austin police Det. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. "They're locked up and scared to go outside. I think the more you see people going out and feeling comfortable leaving the house, the more crime you'll see."
When the lockdown began in mid-March, police saw an uptick in violence, which they attributed to tensions boiling over in the early days of the pandemic.
In April, violent crime dropped, dipping some 13% below last year's rate.
Casaday said those changes could be attributed to regular statistical swings, less reporting and fewer opportunities.
The sharpest decline in violence, both from March to April and over last year's numbers, came in simple assaults, which commonly occur during bar fights and muggings—no deadly weapons and no major injuries.
But with no bars open and fewer people roaming the streets, these types of attacks were down from 933 in March to 791 in April. The numbers are similar when compared with April 2019.
Casaday said the lack of nightlife activity is a clear contributor to that drop, likely short lived.
"Once you start seeing the bars open up, I think you'll see more of that," he said.
Property crimes like robberies, arsons, burglaries, auto thefts and car break-ins saw significant increases from the same month and time span as last year.
Manley said a large chunk of those are typically perpetrated by teenagers, who now have no school or activities to occupy their time.
"With the kids not being in school and a lot of the parents working, it's a good mix for property crime," he said.
Asked whether economic desperation is a factor, Manley said he hasn't seen that yet.
"But the longer this goes on, and the more people that become homeless or without a paycheck, I would expect those types of things to increase," he said.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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