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From 2012 to 2019, the population of Austin, Texas, increased from approximately 829,000 to 949,000. The homicide rate averaged 3.4 per 100,000 residents, and variability was consistent with this rate being stable. Then came 2020. 

Homicides in Austin, Texas 2012–2023. This line graph displays the annual number of homicides in Austin from 2012 to 2023, marked with red Xs. A green line, increasing steadily with population, shows the expected number of homicides based on the observed rate of 3.4 per 100,000 population from 2012 through 2019. The dashed blue lines above and below the green line indicate a 95% confidence interval, setting the boundaries of expected variations around the average. The red X for 2020 is just inside the upper boundary, and the red Xs for homicides are well above the upper boundary from 2021 through 2023.

As Austin’s population grew in the second decade of the 21st Century, the homicide rate held steady at 3.4 per 100,000 residents. This changed in 2020.

 Austin’s mid-year 2020 population was 966,000. Given the previous eight years’ stability, one might have expected 33 homicides, yet 46 occurred. The likelihood of such an increase due to chance is about three percent. Indeed, 2020 was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a 27% increase in the national homicide rate. Austin’s 46 reported homicides in 2020 are consistent with that trend. What about beyond? 

The national homicide rate in 2021 was 33% higher than in 2019, but in Austin, it was 142% higher than expected; in 2022, it was 24% higher nationally than in 2019 but 107% higher in Austin; in 2023, it was only 8% higher nationally than in 2019 but 96% higher in Austin. Neither population growth nor a lingering pandemic effect account for the fact that the homicide rate in Austin has doubled since 2019. 

his line graph modifies the previous one from 2020 to 2023 by adjusting the expected number of homicides (red line) to account for changes in the national homicide rate relative to 2019. The red line forms a convex curve above the green line in the previous graph, reflecting this adjustment for 2020 through 2023. The dashed red lines above and below indicate a 95% confidence interval for the predicted number of homicides, capturing the expected variability around the new estimate. The red X for actual 2020 homicides falls well within these adjusted boundaries, and the red Xs for 2021, 2022, and 2023 are well above the upper bound of the adjusted estimates.

Austin’s 2020 homicides were consistent with how local norms were affected by national trends attributable to the pandemic. Austin homicides in subsequent years escalated despite a national trend towards normalcy.

Considering these stark numbers, it’s clear that Austin and Travis County face a critical challenge. The rise in homicides, outpacing national figures, signals a specific local crisis, not a reflection of broader trends. It refutes any notion of Austin’s immunity to violent crime. This increase is a clarion call for residents, law enforcement, and policymakers to work together to identify causes, to develop effective countermeasures, and to do so promptly. 

This line graph compares the national homicide rates (blue line) to Austin’s rates (red line) from 2012 to 2023. While Austin's rates were consistently below the national average until 2020, they have since risen above the national rates.

Austin can no longer be regarded as inherently safer than the rest of our country.

Denial or indifference to these figures is not an option if we are to restore the legacy of safety that has long been a cornerstone of life in Austin. Our community’s well-being hinges on our collective acknowledgment and decisive action. It’s time to set aside rhetoric, recognize reality, and rise to the challenge of saving lives. 

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Alfred Stanley, a forty-five-year Democratic political consultant living in Austin, Texas, holds a Master of Science in Statistics from the University of Texas at Austin.

I modeled homicides as a Poisson random variable; thus, the standard deviation is the square root of the expected number of homicides in any year, and a 95% confidence interval is approximately 2.37 standard deviations above and below the expected number of homicides based on a t-distribution with seven degrees of freedom. Population counts were obtained by interpolation and extrapolation using the 2010 and 2020 US Census counts and the Census Bureau’s estimate for 2022. Sources:
FBI Crime Data Explorer
Austin Police Department Crime Statistics