Neighborhood Network

September 22, 2021

Dear Neighbor,

Joseph Chacon will be the next chief of the Austin Police Department. City Manager Spencer Cronk announced the decision today after a national search to replace former Chief Brian Manley, who retired in March. The Austin City Council is expected to ratify the choice at its regular meeting on September 30.

Joe is the police chief Austin needs now. He has earned the respect of the community and will lead the department through the challenges ahead. Austin can count on Chief Chacon to focus on rising crime and a patrol staffing crisis while advancing reform.

Austin marked a grim milestone this month with more than sixty murders so far this year. The previous record was fifty-nine murders in 1984.

What do the numbers mean? There’s a difference between the number of murders and the murder rate. According to an analysis by the Austin American-Statesman, the murder rate based on population in 1984 was 13.2 per 100,000 residents. Using the most recent population data, the current murder rate is 6.2 per 100,000 residents. So while Austin has the most murders recorded since 1960, it is half the highest murder rate.

What is driving the record number of murders? Experts can’t say for sure. Other major US cities are experiencing similar increases in homicides. Locally, several factors are likely, including gun crimes, pandemic instability, and previously convicted violent offenders.

How is the Austin Police Department responding? Chief Joseph Chacon launched a multi-agency Violence Intervention Program in mid-April that targets gun crime and has also increased the size of the homicide unit.

What about other crimes? Unfortunately, false and misleading crime data are frequently shared online. In addition to the number of incidents, context is essential but often challenging to understand. For example, I always link to the latest Chief’s Monthly Report, which focuses on comparisons and doesn’t tell us much about crime trends. A better indication of trends is an analysis of patterns. Right now, there are limited tools to share that data with the public, but the police department is working on it.

What can the city do? Next year, all three public safety departments will negotiate new five-year contracts. Why not do the same for resource planning? How many firefighters, medics, and police officers will Austin need in the next five years? What equipment and facilities will be required?

Austin is a smart city and deserves an evidence-based police staffing plan. A valuable tool to help determine patrol staffing needs Austin Police Department. Initial findings are due next month from the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven and Texas State University School of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

As of last week, the Austin Police Department had 191 vacancies. Unless attrition is slowed and training capacity is expanded, adding officer positions that cannot be filled will not help.

Stay safe.