Homicides in Austin fell 25 percent in 2017


Austin police recorded 29 homicides in Austin in 2017, a drop from 39 killings in 2016.

Investigators have solved 92 percent of 2017’s homicides.

After Austin saw a significant spike in homicides in 2016, the number of people who died at the hands of others fell by roughly 25 percent from 39 to 29 in 2017, bringing the toll more in line with the figure that Austin police leaders would expect to see.

Assistant Police Chief Joe Chacon, who served as a homicide detective in the early 2000s, said the number of homicides in Austin has frequently fluctuated over the years.

“Unless you live in a city that has a lot of homicides — that might be having gang-related homicides or some other kind of organized crime going on — they’re very random in nature,” Chacon said.

Most killings in Austin aren’t the result of turf wars or arguments among rival criminal groups.

“The vast majority of ours are either domestic violence or they’re more a product of an interpersonal conflict between two people that ends up with somebody killing the other one,” he said.

According to Austin police, the city’s 29 homicides last year include cases defined as murders by the department and other killings that fell short of a murder charge.

Chacon said 25 of those became murder cases, two of which have not been solved.

SEE THE DATA: Homicides in Austin

The remaining cases that did not meet the criteria for murder included one criminally negligent homicide, an injury to a child and an injury to a disabled person. Austin police also investigated the stabbing death of student Harrison Brown on the University of Texas campus in May, but university police were required to report that incident, rather than Austin police.

Chacon said of the 23 solved cases, 17 were closed when a suspect was taken into custody, in two other cases the suspected killer took his own life and one case was determined to be self-defense. Police issued a warrant in the remaining case, but have yet to run down the suspect.

When Austin saw violent crime spike by more than 11 percent in 2016, police handled 39 homicides. By the end of the following year, 30 of those cases had been solved. Chacon said 28 of those were cleared by arrest, one involved the suspect committing suicide and one case is still open with a warrant issued.

RELATED: New police policy leads to more strangulation charges, officials say

“In 2016, that number that we had was really high,” Chacon said. “We normally don’t see that many in this city. Last year was more on par for what we’ve seen over the years, even though we’re having some pretty significant population growth. I’m glad to say that we have not seen a commensurate growth in our homicide rate.”

Austin’s homicide rate in 2016 was 4.07 per 100,000 people. It slipped to 3.01 in 2017, according to FBI, police and city data.

For homicides in which the victim and killer knew each other or had some pre-existing relationship, as is typical in Austin, the cases are more solvable. That’s one reason Austin investigators had a 92 percent homicide clearance rate in 2017. Preventing such cases, however, is still a problem.

Chacon said the department has officers dedicated to keeping tabs on domestic violence suspects with a known propensity for violence to make sure they stay away from potential victims. They also follow up with victims so they can take proactive steps in ending cycles of violence.

While most cases involved pre-existing relationships, some Austin homicides can be linked to gangs and drugs.

And sometimes the deadly violence can appear to be random, like when 30-year-old Ebony Michelle Sheppard was shot and killed in an apartment complex parking lot the day after Christmas by a stranger. Austin police say the man accused of killing Sheppard, 19-year-old Xavier Lewis, was also a suspect in a string of robberies leading up to the shooting.

READ MORE: Teen shot, killed woman at East Austin apartment after rampage of aggravated robberies, police say

“Unfortunately, in some of these, they are spur-of-the-moment crimes,” Chacon said. “While we can try and take proactive measures, most of the time on homicides we are in a reactive state.”

Sheppard’s death was Austin’s final homicide of 2017.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Candlelight vigil held for Alabama Taco Bell that burned down
Candlelight vigil held for Alabama Taco Bell that burned down

Customers who frequent a Taco Bell in Alabama held a candlelight vigil after a Montgomery franchise was destroyed by fire last week, WSFA reported. The vigil was held Sunday night outside the restaurant and approximately 100 people attended, WFSA reported. According to Montgomery Fire/Rescue, the Taco Bell on Zelda Road partially collapsed...
LBJ presidential library reopens after government shutdown ends
LBJ presidential library reopens after government shutdown ends

After a three-day federal government shutdown ended late Monday, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin will reopen at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The reading room, museum and museum store will resume operations. The library, which is administered by the National Archives, was among several entities and agencies that receive...
Michigan man arrested for threatening to murder CNN employees
Michigan man arrested for threatening to murder CNN employees

A Michigan man was arrested for threatening to come to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters and murder employees, according to a CBS46 report. The FBI arrested the man after he made 22 calls to CNN about a week ago. The story did not identify who he was. He accused CNN of “fake news” and said he was going down to Georgia “right now...
Florida college student says man tried to touch her leg in on-campus parking garage
Florida college student says man tried to touch her leg in on-campus parking garage

Police at the University of Central Florida are warning students to be on their guard after a woman said a man tried to assault her in a campus parking garage Monday. UCF police said a woman who attends the university was approached around 6 p.m. by an unknown man who asked for help with his car in Garage C.  During the exchange, the man...
'Tide Pod Challenge' causes some retailers to lock up product
'Tide Pod Challenge' causes some retailers to lock up product

The viral challenge that involves people filming themselves biting into laundry detergent pods is causing some retailers to take security measures to prevent people from shoplifting the product, WTSP reported. The so-called Tide Pod Challenge has prompted a warning from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said ingesting the pods...
More Stories