AUSTIN, Texas - Department of Justice officials said murders in Austin are up 55 percent compared to last year, attributing the rise to a number of things including city policies.
"When you defund the police, when you relax enforcement of existing criminal law. When you release repeat offenders and violent criminals into our streets, this is exactly what you can expect," said U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer.
"It's appropriate to consider the stress our entire society, not only our city has been under with all these COVID restrictions. We have a lot of people out of work, kids that are out of school for a while," said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
Local, state and federal agencies are all teaming up in an effort they call Operation Undaunted.
"Despite the challenges of the coronavirus, and the unfair and broad vilification of the law enforcement community, we remain undaunted in our commitment to protect residents of Central Texas and throughout the entire western district of Texas," said Sofer.
"Operation Undaunted is a four-prong approach. The first pilar is enhanced use of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network," said Sofer.
"NIBIN is an investigative tool that compares ballistic evidence gathered from crime scenes and recovered firearms to reveal linkages between offenders and violent crime. Violent drug dealers, armed robbers and gang members who fire their weapons on our streets often do so more than once," said Sofer.
The second pillar is targeting repeat offenders. "Far too often criminals are getting five, six, seven and sometimes many more chances. The revolving door of the criminal justice system allows these criminals to return to the streets," said Sofer.
The third and fourth pillars will aim to aggressively prosecute escalated robberies, and partner with the military to investigate and prosecute violent crimes on bases.
"We are becoming a big city with big city problems. We don't want to have big city problems where the homicide rate is out of control," said Sofer.
Manley said the council's decision to cut funding is only exacerbating the problem in dealing with rising crime.
"With the cancelation of new cadet classes that means we will not be able to put new officers on the street for a minimum of 12 months. If we go on with this attrition rate of roughly 12 officers a month we will lose approximately another 150 officers on top of 150 positions that were removed. As a police chief that is very concerning because I do believe one of the greatest deterrents to crime is a visible police presence," said Manley.
As of Dec. 18, the number of homicides in Austin is at 47. Sofer said officials want to address the problem now before the number climb into the triple digits as Central Texas grows.