Homicides on the rise: How Austin compares to other big cities

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A “sizeable jump” in the number of homicides in the past 18-24 months is how criminologist Dr. Alex Piquero describes the situation in Austin.

To be exact, 48 homicides in 2020, a 26% increase from the previous year, and 74 homicides thus far in 2021 equaling a 54% increase with two months to go.

However, according to Dr. Piquero, who’s also the chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Miami, Austin isn’t the only city experiencing this rise in violence.

“Since the first quarter of 2020, over 30 major US cities, including Austin, have seen increases in the number of homicides (and shootings and other forms of interpersonal violence), with some cities seeing double-digit increases,” Piquero said.

With the rise in homicides across the country, KXAN took an in-depth look at 10 similarly sized cities to see how Austin compared.

First, KXAN compared the number of homicides that occurred in each city from 2010 to 2020.

While the count of homicides varied each year among cities, every city experienced an increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020.

For 8 of the 10 cities, 2020 marked the highest number of homicides in 10 years.

KXAN took its analysis further to better understand what these numbers mean and how homicide rates look through October 2021.

2021 Homicide Rates

“Since 2000, the Austin homicide rate is remarkably stable in the 3-5 per 100,000 range,” Piquero said.

However, with 74 homicides thus far in 2021, the rate of homicides in Austin has jumped to approximately 7.7 per 100,000 people.

When comparing 2021 homicides to the nine other cities, Austin is the only city that has already surpassed its total number of homicides in 2020.

However, when looking at the rate of homicides per 100,000 people in 2021, Austin has the 3rd lowest homicide rate of the 10 cities being compared.

Once establishing the 2021 homicide rate for each city, KXAN explored various factors to see if there were common themes that might help explain why some cities have more homicides than others.

Back in September as the city hit its highest number of homicides in a year, now-Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon held a press conference where he cited what he believed to be several contributing factors linked to the rise in Austin’s homicides.

One of the reasons, according to Chacon, relates to current staffing issues at Austin Police Department.

“The fewer officers I have on patrol, it is going to impact that,” Chacon said. “And, I think that has played a part in this overall increase we’re seeing in the numbers of murders and aggravated assaults.”

KXAN looked at the number of officers in each police department, as well as 2021 budgets, and the growth rate of each city to see if there were any correlations between homicide rates.

The data did not show that any of these factors appeared to play a direct role in overall homicide rates.

In terms of the number of officers per 1,000 people in each city, Austin has the fourth fewest officers at 1.68 per 1,000 people, and it has the third-lowest homicide rate.

“As for the data on the number of officers, budget size, etc. the evidence is quite clear that it’s not how many police there are with respect to crime/violence prevention, but more importantly what the police do and how they do it,” Dr. Piquero said.

Chacon additionally cited gun violence as a contribution factor for the recent rise in crime and stressed the need to get more illegal firearms off the streets.

In July, the Austin Police Department launched an intervention program between APD’s Organized and Violent Crimes Divisions, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and state and federal partner organizations. The goal was to decrease the overall gun violence rates.

How are other cities handling homicides?

KXAN reached out to each of the police departments presiding over the additional nine cities to see what each is doing to address homicides there.

Thus far, KXAN received responses from San Jose Police Department, San Antonio Police Department, Dallas Police, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The San Jose Police Department, which covers the city with the lowest homicide rate on our list, stated “our officers are proactive, suppressing crime, seizing firearms and conducting investigations to aid in preventing crime before it occurs.”

Additionally, San Jose PD stated “our city government supports our department’s efforts and we are constantly recruiting and hiring.”

According to the Dallas Police Department, its homicide rate has decreased by 9% compared to 2020 and it believes it’s a result of its initiative to take more weapons off the street as well as its recently implemented community-based crime plan.

Dallas PD stated it “recently partnered with UTSA to implement a new crime plan and strategy. The plan is based on the theory that crime is concentrated in small areas throughout the city.”

Dallas’ goal: “to set the standard for crime reduction nationwide.”

Similar to Dallas PD, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office has partnered with outside resources “in an effort to build community involvement and ultimately curtail criminal behavior.”

The San Antonio Police Department Public Information Office stated “We cannot attribute the rise in homicides or other crimes to anything in particular; however, we want the San Antonio community to know that we will continue working with them to ensure that our city remains one of the safest in the nation.”

Lastly, numerous plans are in motion to combat the increasing crime rates in Indianapolis, which had the highest homicide rate of the cities studied.

In addition to community initiatives and an increased 2022 budget for more officers and resources, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department says, “We are investing in modern crime fighting technology, including additional license plate readers, public safety cameras in high-crime areas and along major thoroughfares and a new gunfire detection pilot to help police respond to gun crimes more efficiently and effectively.”

Regardless of how cities compare, the fact remains that crime has risen across the country since 2020.

Piquero says that although some cities may have witnessed larger increases in crime compared to Austin, “it does not diminish, of course, the loss of life that is un-necessary.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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