AUSTIN, Texas - In the first four months of 2020, the Austin Police Department has investigated 16 homicides. Last year from January to April, there were 10.
"January and February started out really, really high and that kind of set the trend, but then in March we leveled off and in April we decreased,” said Lt. Jeff Greenwalt with APD’s homicide and aggravated assault unit.
Greenwalt said a crime analyst in the homicide unit found the increase appears to have slowed once more people started isolating at home because of COVID-19.
“So if you try to figure out whether or not it was a pandemic-related stress situation, we're actually seeing the opposite. Because in April we only had two murders and that would be the month when most people were quarantined at home and started to get a little bit restless and we're not seeing that happen,” said Greenwalt.
Although the data shows a 60 percent increase over the 10 homicides APD investigated in the first four months of 2019, Greenwalt pointed out there were an additional three homicides in the first week of May last year. He said in his experience, crimes typically happen in waves.
“So over a 12-month rolling period, we almost always see the same numbers in Austin. If you look at the last five to 10 years of data, we're always between the 30 and 40 mark in terms of murders and only time will tell, but we think that we'll probably see it level off,” Greenwalt said.
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Still, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said officers are noticing a difference in the amount of violent crime this year.
“We've had more shootings, it seems like we've had more stabbings, a lot of drive-by shootings in Northeast and Southeast Austin,” said Casaday.
He worries the city's decision to delay a June cadet class while they investigate the department's training materials will add to staffing shortages, making the problem worse.
“People that would normally be out patrolling Zilker Park and other parks around town are now on patrol shifts working in other areas of the city. We have a lot of officers from organized crime unit that have been taken away from their jobs and put back out on patrol. So it's affecting the whole department all the way around,” Casaday said.
“In the grand scheme of things, being short officers, as a general deterrent, is definitely an issue that we're having to deal with as a department, in terms of all the crime, the robberies, the aggravated assault and all the different kinds of crime that we have to deal with, not just murder specifically,” said Greenwalt.
APD said just like previous years, they believe the majority of homicides in 2020 are drug and alcohol related.
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