Graphic by Eric Johnson
Graphic by Eric Johnson

The countdown: Top 10 local news stories of 2013

Published 6:50am Wednesday, January 1, 2014

(5) Special Report: The truth about crime in Austin. The Herald investigates why Austin’s crime rate is so high, and dispels myths about race and crime, and that it’s worse than it was 10-15 years ago

A high crime rate, as many residents know, has for years been a stain on Austin’s reputation.

Yet statistics and discussions show Austin’s crime rate has remained relatively static in the past two decades.

“If anything, you’ve seen a slight reduction in the last 10 to 15 years, and everyone is still working hard on that,” Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan said in September.

According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s 2012 crime report — using a formula for crimes committed per 100,000 residents — Austin had the eighth-highest crime rate in the state among cities. Austin’s crime rate  may not have increased over the past 20 years, but there are still plenty of offenders. Total arrests have fallen in the last several years, but law enforcement officials said they were seeing more serious crimes as well. There are many theories for why this is happening, but local officials say it’s difficult to predict who will commit crimes.

There is no easy answer or solution to the ongoing problem. Mower County District Court Judge Donald Rysavy weighed the cost-benefit ratio of simply putting criminals in prison because of the burden on taxpayers. Furthermore, he pointed to Austin’s history as a hard-drinking town and its transition into drug use as a major reason for continuous crime. Officials weighed other factors, such as Austin’s proximity to Interstate 90 and the drug flow, high poverty and underemployment rates, as about 19 percent of Austin residents live in poverty while only 5 percent are unemployed.

Another hotly-debated subject that often arises is Austin’s diversity; statistics showed Austin’s residents of color are committing significantly less crime overall than white residents. However, the city’s black population accounts for a proportionally larger amount of arrests than any other racial group, according to the Department of Public Safety. In terms of ethnicity, Hispanics account for a proportionally smaller number of arrests.

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