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US Fact check: Gov. Abbott says Austin property crime rising after police budget cut

14:35  19 october  2020
14:35  19 october  2020 Source:   houstonchronicle.com

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After the city council approved millions of dollars in budget cuts , Texas leaders proposed capping tax revenue for cities that defund police . Ahead of the Austin City Council’s budget meeting in mid-August, Kathy Mitchell, a longtime community organizer and grassroots lobbyist, “basically spent the

Gov . Greg Abbott and other state leaders have criticized Austin officials’ decision to cut police department funding. Gov . Greg Abbott is considering a legislative proposal that, if passed, would put the control of the Austin Police Department under state authority.

The claim: “Property crime rising in Austin. This is the kind of thing that happens when cities defund and deemphasize police. Residents are left to fend for themselves.” — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Texas Gov. Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference before signing a © Jay Janner, MBR / Associated Press

Texas Gov. Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference before signing a "Texas Backs the Blue Pledge" at the Austin Police Association on Thursday Sept. 10, 2020, in Austin, Texas. ( Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Abbott made the statement on Twitter on Oct. 1 as part of his sustained campaign to criticize the Austin City Council’s decision to cut funding to its police department.

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Texas Gov . Greg Abbott announced Thursday that he is reviewing legislation that would remove control of the Austin Police Department from the capital city, and place them under state authority. A follow up vote in August cut the police budget by a third, according to the Texas Tribune.

Austin Police Defunded Enter at Your Own Risk" one sign reads. Austin City Council voted in August to slash the police department's budget by 0 million with immediate cuts Texas Gov . Greg Abbott announced plans in August to freeze property taxes in cities that vote to defund their

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly False. Total property crimes have actually dropped 2 percent in the city, compared with last year. And researchers have demonstrated that the size of police forces is not directly related to crime.

Discussion

The tweet cited an advisory from the Austin Police Department warning residents to secure their homes before going on a trip. The article noted 2,983 burglaries had occurred through the first eight months of this year — an 11-percent increase over the first eight months of last year, according to the Austin Police Department’s August crime report.

But burglary is not the only form of property crime, and Abbott’s assertion that property crime is rising in Austin fails to take that into account.

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Property crime generally has been falling in Austin, with the notable recent exceptions of 2018 and 2019. So far this year, property crime has dropped slightly. And Abbott’s attempt to link crime to the City Council’s budget decision misses the mark.

Each month, the Austin Police Department posts to its website the Chief’s Monthly Report, which tallies the number and category of crimes officers respond to each month. The 2,983 burglaries cited in Abbott’s tweet comprise 9 percent of all property crimes recorded through August. Other crimes that fall into this category include shoplifting, credit card fraud, embezzlement and vandalism.

Austin police responded to nearly 34,000 total property crimes through August, which is a 2 percent drop compared with 2019. According to FBI data, property crime in Austin increased in 2018 by 8.5 percent and in 2019 by 8.7 percent.

But taking a longer view, the property crime rate has generally been falling over the last decade. The number of property crimes has only risen in a total of three years since 2010.

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PolitiFact is a fact - checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter. (Kaiser Health News, which partners with PolitiFact on health fact - checking , is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

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In 2010, Austin police responded to nearly 46,000 reports of property crime, or about 5.8 incidents per 100 residents, according to federal data. In 2019, officers responded to 36,588 reports, or about 3.7 incidents per 100 residents. Burglaries specifically also have been dropping, from about 1.1 incidents per 100 residents in 2010 to about 0.4 in 2019.

The perception of high crime in Austin reflects a popular misconception that crime is always on the rise despite a general downward trend, said Texas State University criminologist Sean Roche. On average, crime in the U.S. has declined since the mid-1990s to historically low and stable levels.

That’s generally true for Austin’s property crime rates as well. Federal data going back to 1985 show a peak of property crime incidents in 1990 followed by a decade of low property crime until a smaller peak in 2009.

“Even though crime went up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and then started declining in the ’90s, most of the public did not ever catch wise of this,” Roche said. “There’s a significant chunk of people in the U.S. that always think crime is getting worse.”

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Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the figures were "truly shocking" and should "put an end to government The Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, David Jamieson, said his force had lost more than 2,000 uniformed officers since 2010 and his budget had been cut by 25%.

After asserting that the property crime rate in Austin is rising, Abbott’s tweet goes on to claim that rising crime is “the kind of thing that happens when cities defund and deemphasize police.”

It’s unclear what the governor means when he says “deemphasize police” — his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Austin City Council recently decided to cut $21.5 million from the police budget and shifted another $128 million from the Police Department to other city departments to continue civilian-run functions, such as the 911 call center and forensics.

The cuts came after protesters against police brutality in Austin and across the nation demanded police reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May.

But how the council’s budgetary decisions will affect the department’s daily operations, especially in regard to property crime, is not yet known.

“In terms of staffing changes, that’s something we’re still working on,” said Austin police spokeswoman Tara Long. “We’re still working on those specifics.”

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley indicated in August that the department may reduce or eliminate about a dozen police units while reassigning those officers to patrol duties. The cuts also will cancel three upcoming cadet classes and reduce overtime spending.

But does a smaller police force automatically heighten crime? One systematic review by criminologists at the University of Cincinnati concludes that the overall effect of police force size on crime is “statistically not significant,” although it is possible that force size might influence some crimes more than others.

“Policy makers who want police to have an impact on crime would be better suited investing resources in new evidence-based strategies than funding surges in police hiring,” the 2016 review says.

Rather, crime trends are more influenced by macro-level drivers, like the prevalence of firearms in a community, alcohol consumption, drug use, unemployment and a population’s age structure, Roche said.

“Austin, on average, has historically been a very safe city,” he said. “It’s premature to say definitively that a budget decision that was made a couple months ago has already had these very dramatic impacts on crime rates. We just don’t know.”

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