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Austin Police Department sees increase in violent crime

Thursday, March 5, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

While the Austin Police Department is still finalizing crime numbers for 2019, the end of the last decade and the beginning of this one saw an uptick in violent crime, according to APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay.

Gay told the Public Safety Commission at its March 2 meeting, “At the end of the year we did see an uptick in violent crime.” He said downtown and Northeast Austin had a particular influx of violent incidents.

In a monthly report presented to the commission, the northeastern Edward sector of Austin, which is north of Highway 290 and between Loop 1 and Highway 130, saw a 30 percent increase in crimes against persons between January 2019 and January 2020. Citywide, there was a 14 percent increase in crimes against persons.

Gay said aggravated assaults and robberies increased citywide. The Edward sector experienced large jumps in kidnappings and aggravated assault.

The downtown sector had an 8 percent decrease in crimes against persons during the same time period, but a 175 percent increase in weapon law violations.

“When we looked at our violent crime … 27 percent of those cases involved a handgun,” said Chief Gay.

Commissioners asked whether the police department was working to address the increase in violent crime and firearm use. APD released a gun study that showed the number of stolen or lost firearms rose from 766 in 2017 to 967 in 2018.

Gay said the police department is continuing to work with the city’s Task Force on Gun Violence and is focusing on decreasing gun violence through educational measures and weapon retrieval initiatives.

Commissioner Chris Harris pointed out that increases in violent crime are not relegated to a single month. Since crime, he explained, is likely to go up as the weather warms, he asked if this phenomenon was responsible for the jump in crime at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Gay confirmed Harris’ observations, saying, “Throughout the country, we all saw an uptick in the same time frame for violent crime.”

Although January saw an increase in violent crime against persons, Gay emphasized that the department is working to adequately police the streets, relying on officer overtime to ensure that all sectors are adequately covered.

Currently, the police department has 142 vacancies, resulting in the department spending $6.6 million more in overtime than it anticipated in the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year. “To date, we have spent 74 percent of our budget, (and) we should be right around 50 percent,” said Gay. Overtime budget was predominantly spent on officers.

Commissioners requested that APD’s next report include a more granular breakdown of law violations. Commissioner Daniela Nuñez requested more specifics on the types of violent crimes that occur and Commissioner Selena Alvarenga asked for a description of the quantities and types of drugs that the police department is encountering on the streets.

Commissioners Rebecca Webber and Preston Tyree were absent from the discussion.

Photo by WCN 24/7 made available through a Creative Commons license.

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