As the Austin Police Department struggles to work with a dwindling number of officers, homicides in the city have reached a record high.
According to KVUE, Austin has experienced 60 homicides so far this year, the most in the 61 years that the police have kept records.
The next highest year for homicides was in 1984, where 59 homicides were committed as the city experienced a three year surge. More recently, 48 homicides were committed in 2020, 38 in 2019 and 35 in 2018, according to police records obtained by KVUE.
And on Sunday, two additional homicides brought the city to its record total.
At around 2:20am near a nightclub on North Lamar Boulevard, a person was shot. Just moments later, police responded to a a stabbing near Sixth and Nueces streets.
The homicide rate has grown to 6.2 per 100,000 residents this year, up from 5.0 in 2020 and 4.2 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2016.
So far, 49 of the 60 cases have had files charges. The other 11 are actively being investigated.
According to KVUE, "Experts attribute a number of reasons to the crime spike, which is also happening in other major U.S. cities. They say the availability of guns is contributing, as well as unrest and instability from the COVID-19 pandemic."
The city's police force is also stretched thin, with officer shortages and a large chunk of the budget being cut.
"Council members, by canceling Police Department cadet classes and stripping up to $150 million from the $434 million police budget, failed to anticipate the consequences," wrote the Austin American-Statesman. "Several acknowledge that the department is now left with a bare-bones patrol staff suffering unprecedented attrition. The council has reinstated cadet classes, but the first graduates won’t hit the streets until spring. The department has about 1,800 officers, roughly the same number it had in 2016."
As a result of the shortages, Austin police are no longer responding to incidents deemed to be non emergencies, like theft, verbal disputes, prostitution, animal services, burglary of a residence, vehicle, or business, and COVID-19 violations.
Residents in cases like these are prompted to call 311, rather than 911, to file a report.
In one case, response from the police took over a month.
A North Carolina man said last month that his daughter was in Austin for a bachelorette party with friends when the house they were renting was robbed, according to KXAN-TV.
"They proceeded to call the police and were referred to 311, who instructed them to start an online report. And no law enforcement official arrived at the location," Darin Short said.
Short said that they had not heard back for weeks regarding the issue, only to finally received a call Wednesday afternoon saying an officer should contact them within 48 hours.
In response, political action committee Save Austin Now has launched an effort to get a proposition on the upcoming November election's ballot that would require two police officers for every 100,000 people in the city.
The proposition has been met with opposition though, with city leaders, organizations, and activists arguing that it would take money away from other city services and would not make the city safer.
Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon has blamed gun crime for the rising crime rates within the city, specifically in homicides and non-domestic aggravated assault, as well as armed robberies.
To fight this, police have issued a number of initiatives to stop the trend, including launching a Violence Intervention Program aimed at preventing gun crime.
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