At a time this month when tourists poured into Austin from around the globe for the South by Southwest festivals, a week in mid-March brought a wave of violence to Central Texas that left five people dead, four facing criminal charges and at least seven other suspects who haven’t been identified or charged, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The incidents highlight an alarming trend for Austin police: As the city’s population continues to swell, violent crime — from murders to assaults — continue ticking upward. Last year, violent crime increased 10 percent, and the city saw more homicides than it had in years.
While police are concerned about all violent crime, they are now focusing on a surge in armed robberies in which gun-carrying perpetrators are firing shots in the air — and sometimes, at victims — in an escalation of what officers have typically seen. “These are bad folks that are out there committing these crimes, and they are a major focus for the Police Department now,” said Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon. Among 187 robberies from Jan. 1 through March 13, in 92 instances, the robbers brandished a gun; and in nine cases, they fired the weapons — something police have said they previously rarely saw. Concerns about Austin’s violent crime rate come even as the city is considered among the nation’s safest for its size. Violent crime is seeing a modest increase nationally, found a recent survey by the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association that found that all types of violent crime — homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults and nonfatal shootings — had gone up about 6 percent from 2015 to 2016.