TRAVIS COUNTY (KXAN) — To deal with a rising number of homicides, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office is creating and hiring for six new positions to aid in the prosecution of those cases.

Documents from Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court agenda show the office asked to use its own internal funds to bring on:

  • 2 Attorney VII Special Project Workers
  • 2 Attorney VI Special Project Workers
  • 1 Victim Counselor, Sr. Special Project Worker
  • 1 Paralegal Special Project Worker

This comes as the courts are dealing with a backlog of criminal cases that are waiting on in-person jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic putting those on pause. While in-person criminal jury trials restarted Feb. 28, documents stated the lack of trials from the past two years has resulted in 237 pending homicide cases.

On top of the backlog, the office explained to commissioners the number of homicides received by the DA’s Office has more than doubled since 2018. Also, there were 118 homicide cases received in 2021, which documents said is a 59% increase over the 74 cases received in 2020.

The DA’s Office wrote assistant district attorneys now could be handling as many as 28 homicides at one time on top of their regular caseload, which is 200 to 300 cases each. “This situation is ripe for mistakes, missed deadlines, and longer pretrial incarceration times,” the office said.

The DA’s Office believes these new roles would assist with the backlog and shrink wait times for defendants sitting in jail.

“Our office does not tolerate acts of violence in our community,” the DA’s Office said in a statement. “If a person commits an act of violence, then they will be held accountable.”

The positions are only intended to be temporary — lasting through Sept. 30, 2023. The documents explained the DA’s Office is only requesting temporary hires, because it’s “optimistic the number of homicides will be reduced through the efforts of the City of Austin’s Office of Violence Prevention.”

The DA’s Office also said while the number of homicides last year was the most Austin has seen, “when compared to the population, the homicide rate is still lower than what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

“Incidences of violent crime in Austin and Travis County remain lower than most of our peers, per capita,” the DA’s Office wrote in a memo. “We are hopeful that the recent wave will come to an end soon.”

The estimated cost would be $330,033 for fiscal year 2022 and $720,071 for fiscal year 2023. Funding would come from within the office’s “existing budget as a result of turnover from the change from the previous administration,” paperwork stated.