Austin police report confirms declining violent crime rates


Citywide violent and property crimes reached a six-year low late last month, according to a new Austin Police Department report. According to the report, citywide violent crime decreased by 19.1 percent, from 225 instances of violent crime to 198, far exceeding APD’s goal of a 1-percent reduction in violent crime from 2010 to 2011. Property crime shows a 6-percent year-to-date decline, from 3,271 total property crimes to 2,738. APD lieutenant Nick Wright said the department generated the report using CompStat, a software program that compares collected and cataloged crime data. In previous years, the program did not have enough data to generate trends from the statistics. “We utilize what I call CompStat forecasting,” Wright said. “I look ahead, I see what’s coming, and I say I’m going to beat the rush.” The report also demonstrates a 300-percent increase in bank robberies, or three more, from 2010. There was only one bank robbery at the same time last year. “That’s what I call death by small numbers. Statistically it looks horrible, but it’s not a true great increase,” Wright said. Wright said he hesitates to connect the increase in bank robberies to the state of the national economy. “The issue isn’t general, it’s individual,” he said. “All it takes is a few people crazy or desperate enough to do something like rob a bank.” Wright said as temperatures rise there are more opportunities for crime because of large events like Mardi Gras, South by Southwest, Texas Relays and the Republic of Texas Biker Rally. APD develops initiatives to combat crime during these periods, including placing more officers on overtime at designated times to combat thefts or assaults, Wright said. UT Police Department officer Darrell Halstead said his division also uses reports and forecasting to look at where current crime trends are and account for them. During spring break, UTPD sees an increase in auto burglaries because students leave their belongings inside their cars, Halstead said. Property crime also increases around this time of year during University Interscholastic League tournaments. Laura Smith, executive director of Austin’s Crime Prevention Institute, said programs that help ex-offenders adjust to life outside prison are proven to reduce property crime. Smith said the institute started this type of program in 2009 and has had desirable results. In 2010, the program celebrated a 71-percent ex-offender employment rate. The institute found jobs for nearly 3,550 former prisoners, Smith said. An ex-offender with a job is three times less likely to commit another crime than an unemployed ex-offender, she said. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is a set of crime prevention strategies employed in designing buildings, said Daniel Keller, executive director of the American Crime Prevention Institute. “CPTED uses lighting, access and natural surveillance to reduce the comfort the bad guys are going to feel when they decide whether or not to commit a crime,” Keller said. Keller said CPTED is especially relevant to a campus constantly under construction like UT because the program is most successfully employed in the design of new buildings. CPTED is put into practice all over the United States, Keller said. The strategies of CPTED aim to rob wrongdoers of the anonymity that permits them to commit crimes, he said.