Arguments among family members or couples resulted in a spike in homicides in Central Texas in 2013, despite an overall decrease in violent crime and property crime, law enforcement officials said.
Data from an annual FBI crime report released this week show that homicides in Austin dropped from 31 in 2012 to 26 in 2013, continuing the downward trend police have seen for years.
Outside the city limits, about 33 percent more homicides were reported across the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area, which is made up of Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.
There were 52 victims in 2013 compared with the 39 reported in 2012, and law enforcement officials said domestic violence played an important role. Those include single homicides that were reported in communities such as Georgetown, Lockhart and Elgin, where officials said homicides are unusual.
The largest increase in homicides outside of Austin was in Travis County, where deputies reported nine victims. Travis County sheriff’s office spokesman Roger Wade said the suspects and victims knew each other, and most of the incidents were domestic disturbances that ended in fatalities.
“We need to work more on intervening sooner so we can prevent these types of homicides,” Wade said. “We are getting better at looking at those cases, but it is still a prevalent problem.”
Law enforcement officials say they are tackling the issue of domestic violence by improving the way it is documented in police reports and aggressively looking for offenders.
Last month, the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force focused many of its investigations on arresting domestic and family violence fugitives accused of crimes such as strangulation, kidnapping, and aggravated assault.
“The effort to go after domestic violence fugitives is now ongoing,” said Hector Gomez, a spokesman for the task force. “A significant percentage of murders started months or years ago as domestic violence cases and escalated to homicides.”
Despite the fact that domestic violence suspects can be charged with felonies, many commit minor offenses or the assaults are not even reported before a homicide, officials said.
In 2013, authorities found a 35-year-old woman dead at her home in Bastrop just after they found her boyfriend dead in Austin. The 54-year-old man had killed her before fleeing to Austin and committing suicide. While the couple lived in Bastrop, officials said, authorities never knew of any domestic disturbances.
“We are against the clock to try to locate these types of fugitives to stop them before they leave the area,” Gomez said.
The report, published by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program on Monday, collects the following reported crimes from Texas law enforcement agencies: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny or theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Local statistics mirror the decrease nationwide from 2012 to 2013 in most types of violent crime and property crime.
Among other data in the FBI report that compared 2013 with 2012:
- Austin’s rate of violent crime per 100,000 people dropped about 7.3 percent.
- Robberies in Austin dropped about 22 percent.
- Murders and non-negligent manslaughter in Austin decreased about 16 percent, but aggravated assaults decreased only about 3.2 percent.
- Round Rock saw an increase in aggravated assaults from 64 in 2012 to 86 in 2013.
- Most types of violent crime and property crime decreased in Round Rock, including a 42 percent drop in motor vehicle thefts.