Summary

The idea that violent crime is “on the rise” in Austin is an incomplete interpretation of the data, and the idea that Austin is experiencing some sort of “crime wave” is a blatant falsehood. Overall the crime rate has been decreasing steadily in recent years, while the violent crime rate has been stagnant.

Violent crime is often cited as a reason for increased and excessive funding to the Austin Police Department. However, the data does not support the idea that increased funding to APD has been lowering the violent crime rate. APD’s budget has increased steadily over the past five years while the violent crime rate has held constant.

From 2019 to 2020

Comparing the period January through June 2019 with the period January through June 2020, we can see that the amount of crime in Austin hasn’t changed much.

Overall, the number of crimes in Austin has actually experienced a slight decrease from 52,323 in the first half of 2019 to 50,170 in the first half of 2020–a total decline of about 4.1%.

The number of violent crimes in particular has experienced a slight uptick from 1,694 between January and June 2019 to 1,819 in the same period in 2020, a percentage increase of about 7.4% and a numerical increase of only 125 instances, in a city of nearly one million people.

When crime is low and there are very few crimes in total, a small numerical increase can result in what looks like a big percentage jump. In fact, these numbers tell us that violent crime remains low in Austin.

It is also worth noting that violent crime makes up less than 4% of all crime in Austin.

From 2019 to 2020 the population of Austin also increased, from 985,504 in 2019 to 999,991 in 2020, meaning the violent crime rate (# of violent crimes per 1,000 residents) increased by an even smaller percentage, only 5.8%. Meanwhile, the overall crime rate (# of crimes per 1,000 residents) decreased by 5.5%.

We can also look at the four categories of crimes included in “violent crimes”–armed robbery, aggravated assault, rape, and homicide–and see that none of these have individually increased as much as some claim.

The number of aggravated assaults has increased by 8.2% from the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2020; the number of armed robberies has increased by 16.6%; and the number of reported rapes has decreased by 26.3%.

While the number of homicides in the first half of the year does appear to have increased by 53.8%, the actual numerical change was from 13 in the first half of 2019 to 20 in the first half of 2020. Overall, murder makes up less than 0.05% of all crime in Austin.

Because homicide, and other violent crime categories, are such small absolute numbers from year to year, they have little predictive statistical value. Seemingly large percentage changes in the number of homicides from year-to-year do not significantly affect the homicide rate (# of homicides per 1000 people).

In the first half of 2019, the homicide rate was 0.013 incidents per 1000 people; in the first half of 2020, it was 0.020. This means that the 53.8% increase in the number of homicides from 2019 to 2020 only corresponded to an increase of 0.007 incidents per thousand people.

In general, this means that these small numbers cannot be used in forecasting. At this scale, they’re random quantities. A “spike” of this size in homicides in a given month or year, while a tragic event, does not indicate a significant change to the general trend.

 

Violent crime has not shown a surge of growth in 2020. There has been an increase of 125 cases compared to the same period in 2019 in a city of almost 1 million residents, which is a violent crime increase of 0.1 incidents per 1000 people. While there isn’t a surge of violent crime, APD also isn’t decreasing violent crime, despite a funding increase of $65 million dollars over the past 5 years.

Crime Rate and APD Budget, 2015 to 2019

As the data above shows, Austin has not been experiencing a crime wave in the last year. Overall crime has actually decreased, and increases in specific types of crime are small absolute numbers and represent even smaller percentages of Austin’s population.

Taking a longer term view, we see that minor, month-to-month fluctuations in the number of violent crimes are common, with the general trend showing the violent crime rate has stayed relatively flat over the past five years.

In 2015 and in 2019 the violent crime rate was 3.7 incidents per thousand people, with the highest fluctuation between those years being 3.9 in 2017. For comparison, the national average crime rate in 2018 according to FBI data was 3.68.

Meanwhile, APD’s budget has increased by $65M, or about 18%. In that same time period, Austin’s population has increased about 9.4%. For an 18% increase in police funding with only a 9.4% increase in population, one would expect to see a significant decrease in crime.

While Austin has seen a 15.5% decrease in crime, from 129 incidents per 1000 people in 2015 to 109 incidents per 1000 people in 2019, that decrease is solely due to non-violent crime reduction. Violent crime has remained largely constant, contrary to what fearmongers have said.

While violent crime is not hugely on the rise, neither has the overfunding of the police curbed it.

We have been funneling more and more money into APD over the years without getting better results on public safety.

Data Sources

Throughout this report, data concerning numbers of crimes in Austin was taken from APD’s “Crime Reports” dataset, accessed through the City of Austin’s Open Data Portal (ODP) on July 30th, 2020. This dataset is updated weekly and records all incident reports filed by APD officers, including the time, date, location, and highest offense listed in the incident report.

This dataset differs from the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), the dataset APD uses to calculate and report monthly crime totals. The ODP Crime Reports dataset records individual incident reports, while the UCR counts all crimes, including individual crimes recorded within a single incident. For example, a situation where someone both attacked and killed an individual would be recorded as two crimes on the UCR (aggravated assault and homicide), whereas it would be recorded as one incident on the ODP Crime Reports dataset.

The ODP Crime Reports dataset lists the highest offense for each incident, meaning that homicide totals should be consistent between the two datasets (as there is no higher charge). Other numbers and rates may appear larger on the UCR dataset, since single incidents are counted as multiple crimes. This can artificially inflate the UCR’s given violent crime rate, as some incidents are counted multiple times depending upon the charges involved.

Additionally, the UCR datasets for Austin were not made publicly available for 2019. The definition of “violent crime” used in this report followed the official FBI definition, which defines violent crimes as homicide (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter), rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Throughout this report, population estimates were taken from the Austin City Demographer, estimated for April 1st of each year.

In the first section of this report (“From 2019 to 2020”), only the periods 01/01/2019 to 06/30/2019 and 01/01/2020 to 06/30/2020 were analyzed, to enable a comparison between the two years.

In the second section (“Crime Rate and APD Budget, 2015 to 2019”), crime totals and rates were calculated from the full calendar year (01/01 through 12/31) for each of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. APD budget data was taken from the City of Austin, and counted for the year the budget took effect. For example, the budget number used for 2015 was the APD budget for fiscal year 2015-16.

Links

Ongoing crime data from APD

UCR Reports

Violent Crime definition

APD Budget/expenditures

Austin Population Histories and Forecasts

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