AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a recent rise in crimes, the Austin Police Department launched a new intervention program Friday aimed at fighting gun violence and cracking down on offenders.
The program was created through a partnership between APD’s Organized and Violent Crimes Divisions, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and state and federal partner organizations.
Through the end of August, APD will be working with prosecutors at both the district and county attorneys’ offices “to increase the visibility, thoroughness, and prosecution of violent offenses.”
Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon answered questions about the new program in a press conference Friday afternoon.
“The reason for this program is due to the increase in the use of firearms in serious violent crimes. This is including shootings, murders, aggravated assaults, robberies and other crimes involving firearms,” he explained.
The department will assess cases, determine which ones are fit for the program, then refer them to the right agency for prosecution and investigation, according to a press release. Crime data analysis will also be tracked to pinpoint violent gun crime trends in order to better guide the program.
Additionally, some APD units that deal with the most violent crimes will collaborate with federal partners like the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives Task Force to increase federal referrals for offenses.
“…To look for opportunities to leverage their expertise and resources and to bring more federal firearms cases to our U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Chacon said.
APD is hoping to ramp up seizures of illegally-possessed guns this way, the press release said, and it will be using the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network system to help advance those efforts.
“We have seen a need to take a strong stand and develop a plan for decreasing the number of these crimes happening and decreasing the number of illegal firearms on the streets,” Chacon said.
As a whole, APD is hoping the program will improve Austin’s safety as well as increase attention to violent crimes and their prosecutions.
“The goal of the operation is to drive overall gun violence rates down over the operational period and to hold those who would do violent harm to our community accountable,” Chacon said.
He is also encouraging the community to partner with APD on this effort and call 911 if a violent gun crime occurs.
Tracking legal vs. illegal firearms
Chacon said a growing problem is the number of illegal guns, including those used while committing a violent crime.
“I can tell you just looking at the reports we have produced, a number of them have been stolen in a home burglary or vehicle burglary,” he said. “We do run across ghost guns, or guns that are illegally manufactured.”
The initiative was announced as a bill allowing Texans to carry without a license is making its way through the state legislature, having passed in the house.
The Texas Municipal Police Association said no longer requiring these records will make stolen or illegal guns even harder for police to track.
“If we’ve taken away their ability to actually distinguish the people who are supposed to be carrying guns from the people who aren’t supposed to be carrying guns, then it makes it that much easier for the people who are not supposed to be carrying guns to be carrying,” said Kevin Lawrence of the association.
Chacon said Friday he’d “reserve his comments” on the bill. As of Friday evening, APD had not responded to emails about how police would track legal guns without a permitting system.