Last year was defined by the pandemic and politics. This year, the community will work together to end a public health crisis and focus on homelessness and public safety.
The Texas Legislature convened yesterday for the 87th Regular Session. Criminal justice and public safety will be among the top issues facing state lawmakers. For example, the George Floyd Act (HB 88 and SB 161) and a bill to limit political subdivisions’ authority to reduce public safety agency budgets (HB 638) have already been filed. Governor Greg Abbott has also discussed legislative proposals related to law enforcement and public safety in Austin.
Last month, US Attorney Gregg N. Sofer announced a regional initiative to combat violent crime. Operation Undaunted will (1) investigate and prosecute shootings by using the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, (2) target violent crime repeat offenders, (3) prosecute armed robberies affecting interstate commerce, and (4) investigate violent crimes on military bases. As part of the news conference, local crime spikes were highlighted.
Is Austin dangerous or less safe? The Austin Police Department reports crime data according to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which classifies crime into three categories: crimes against persons, property, and society. Local crime data is found in the Chief’s Monthly Report. Comparing specific crime categories between periods isolates important changes in crime rates. Percentage changes in the three NIBRS categories can be misleading because small changes in high-volume crimes can obscure large changes in low-volume crimes.
Murder (55 percent), aggravated assault (20 percent), and robbery (5 percent) increased through November 2020. Two important indicators of violent crime trends, non-family violence aggravated assault (32 percent) and firearm-related violent offenses (43 percent), were up during the first three quarters of 2020. Crimes in these and other categories increased throughout the year, even before the Austin City Council’s budget cuts.
Finally, thanks to the thousands of Neighborhood Network supporters who called and emailed the Austin City Council, hosted virtual meetings, and provided food and resources for first responders last year. We will need you even more in 2021.
Stay safe and well.