Austin Police Department reports increase in annual crime rate

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At the end of 2016, the Austin Police Department reported 40 murders in the city throughout the year, the most in more than a decade. 

Compared with 2015, the murder rate increased 66.7 percent, according to the December 2016 monthly report from APD Chief Brian Manley. 

While the number of murders is higher than last year, it is still within the range of Austin’s typical murder rate, which APD Lieutenant Justin Newsom said is between 20 to 40 a year.

Newsom said these reports are unofficial and simply raw data that has not been clarified or filtered, indicating that the number may drop as the data is processed.

Taking this into account, the number is still on the high end, just barely higher than the 38 murders in 2010. The number of murders in Austin usually stays between 20 and 40, a notably low rate for a city of Austin’s size.

Newsom said while spikes happen, there is usually no specific reason behind the increase in murders.

Detective Ken Casaday, president of Austin Police Association, expects the murder rate to continue to increase and said the problem behind the uptick is two-pronged.

“We’re over 115 officers short right now and we’re way short on our detective staff,” Casaday said.

Casaday said the other prong of the problem is officers are not policing as aggressively as they have in the past.

“[Officers] are not going out and stopping suspicious subjects because that’s where officers end up getting in trouble with use-of-force-type issues,” Casaday said.

Casaday said this is not just an Austin issue, but a national trend both in being short-staffed and how officers are policing cities.

“Crime has been trending downwards for many years and is at historically low levels,” said Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs with more than 30 years working in criminal justice. “Every indication is that the trend will continue, however this year there were some cities that had a rise in violent crime rates. What’s not clear though is if this is a start of a new trend or just a blip.”

Violent crime as a whole in Austin is up 8 to 10 percent, and a solution could be allocating more money for officers’ salaries and overtime pay, Casaday said.

“You’ve got to have the officers on the street to deter crime,” Casaday said.

While the murder rate has stayed fairly consistent over the last ten years despite a nearly 30 percent population growth over that time, Casaday said the city growth could still be part of the problem.

“We’ve grown substantially, so that might have something to do with it,” Casaday said. “We just have more people. I think there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but the two big ones are the shortage of officers and the officers not being as aggressive as they used to be.”

At the end of the year, there will be a more complete analysis of murders, and that data will better represent trends in
violent crime.