AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin homicide detectives say the majority of cases they work often involve drug deals.
Sergeant Eric De Los Santos says of the city’s 35 murders in 2018, 20 of them happened while someone was selling drugs.
So far in 2019, he says seven of the city’s 18 murders have involved drug deals. He says almost all drug-related murders involve marijuana.
“It is surprising to me, because if you’re going to take steps to rob someone and obviously use deadly force — because of bringing guns to these things — you would think it would be for a high-dollar drug like meth or cocaine,” De Los Santos said. “Instead, it’s marijuana.”
De Los Santos says suspects generally rob dealers of the marijuana they’re carrying with plans to turn around and sell it. He says it’s become common for many people to carry a gun to marijuana deals.
“And unfortunately, in a lot of these cases that we’re talking about, it’s young guys,” he said. “We need to invest more in our youth and give them alternatives to this and not glamorize this lifestyle.”
Dalia Tirado, director of non-profit Youth Advocacy, says marijuana is involved in about 95 percent of the cases she sees when kids are in trouble. Youth Advocacy provides education and mentoring programs for youth throughout Travis County. The group’s case workers also work with young people who have already landed in juvenile court.
“We’ve had kids shot and killed,” Tirado said. “We’ve gotten kids that have been the aggressors where they have a gun and go into a place and try to steal it. We’ve gotten just deals gone wrong where they got shot. They’re not the aggressors, but they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Tirado says the number one way to curb that is for parents to start conversations about marijuana at a young age.
“If you’re not talking to them, someone else is. And so I think having those hard conversations early on is essential, and having those expectations set is essential,” Tirado said.
She says some who come through the Youth Advocacy program began experimenting with marijuana as young as eight or nine-years-old. Usually she says, that’s because of family circumstances, in which the child might feel stressed or neglected.
“I think being proactive as a parent is step one to change the family,” Tirado said. “I think the youth is just a symptom of what is actually happening, and I think a lot of the youth we do get are self-medicating because there’s some other issue, where, with a conversation or more quality time that the parents could probably give the child could do a lot more help than they probably think.”
New unit helps homicide detectives with solving cases
This year, APD added an Aggravated Assault Unit to help homicide detectives.
Prior to that, regular detectives would respond to shootings and stabbings in their sectors of the city if the victim didn’t die at the scene. With high case loads, those detectives didn’t always have the resources to handle the cases.
Now, with specialized detectives responding to shootings from the start, if the victim ends up dying, the Aggravated Assault Unit has already done a lot of work to hand over to detectives in the Homicide Unit. That improves the likelihood of finding a suspect.
“Already, there’s been a couple of cases where the person has gone ahead and passed and we ended up getting it, and I think all of those were solved, and a lot of it was because of the initial work they did,” De Los Santos said.