Police in Austin seek to curb rising violent crime rate

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Austin police are trying to halt the increase in armed robberies with overall violent crime on the rise in the fast-growing area.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that while thousands of visitors flocked to the city for the annual South by Southwest festivals over the past week, violence around the area left about a half-dozen people dead. Violent crime rose last year by 10 percent, and Austin counted more homicides than it had in years.

Through March 13, 187 robberies have been reported, including four banks, 28 businesses and 155 people. In 92 instances, the robbers carried a gun, the newspaper reported Sunday. In nine of the robberies, the gunman fired, which police say was rare in the past.

"We don't think things are out of control by any means, but we are constantly taking note of where we are to make sure we don't get to that out-of-control point," Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon, who oversees the department's violent crime division, said.

Chacon said even with a continuing uptick in crime, Austin still ranks among the nation's safest cities and that residents and visitors should feel safe.

"We've seen some pretty high-profile incidents that have occurred that are very violent in nature," Chacon said. "Obviously, we are going to put investigative resources and proactive measures in place to make sure that we are not seeing a trend."

The department already was specifically addressing violent crime late last year when 2016 wound up the first year in about a decade Austin's violent crime numbers rose. Patrol divisions have been conducting special initiatives to find crime hot spots and "disrupt them through officer presence and quick response," he said.

Police staffing levels also have been adjusted and foot and bike patrols in some parts of the city increased, and officers have stepped up education efforts in areas like apartment complexes to raise awareness among residents.

"These are bad folks that are out there committing these crimes, and they are a major focus for the police department now," Chacon said.

In the past week's homicides, four people are facing criminal charges and authorities are looking for seven other suspects who haven't been identified or charged.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

AP-WF-03-19-17 1559GMT

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