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Empty streets = lower crime,  numbers show, but Austin police say it won't last
(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)

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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What's new in Austin food & drink this week:

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  • Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
  • Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
  • Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
  • Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
  • Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
  • The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
  • Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
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