Homicides spiked across all the major cities in Texas, yet only Austin and Dallas made cuts to police funding. What factors led to this rise in crime, and what can citizens do about it?

Last year, the national left took advantage of allegations that the Minnesota police—and then-Officer Derek Chauvin, in particular—were responsible for George Floyd’s tragic death by pushing to “defund the police.” The far left in Dallas defined this as raiding taxpayer money from the police budget to fund other government programs, such as art and green energy.

Rather than focusing on delivering greater police accountability and transparency, Austin’s city council unanimously sided with the radical left by defunding the police, while a majority of Dallas’ city council cut police overtime by $7 million—though it was acknowledged they’d use the city’s emergency reserve fund to fill any gaps.

The city councils of San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth sided with citizens and increased spending for police.

Despite taking widely different directions, all five cities saw dramatic increases in homicides in 2020.

In August, The Wall Street Journal reported Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio had the first-, third-, and fourth-highest homicide increases in the nation for the year. In November, total homicides in Austin had risen to the most the city had seen in 20 years. As of December 29, Houston had 400 murders for the year, a 42 percent increase from the previous year. Dallas ended the year with 251 murders, the highest murder rate it has seen in 15 years. Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon reported in 2020 the city saw a 58 percent increase in homicides from the prior year, adding it was “the worst in 25 years.”

“All the major [U.S.] cities are seeing significant upticks in crime and in murders, particularly,” said Charles Blain, president of Urban Reform and the Urban Reform Institute.

The Common Denominator

What was the common denominator for all of this?

“I don’t know. I think it’s a number of things,” Blain replied. “You have people who have been locked in for a very long time, and so they’re anxious and antsy, and they get out and cause problems and they fight.”

He also listed other possible causes, such as domestic violence, robberies gone wrong, rising homelessness, gang violence, and strains on budgets and resources during the Chinese coronavirus situation.

I think all of that coupled together is just a recipe for disaster.

Are the government-ordered shutdowns and mandates brought in response to the coronavirus the leading factor?

“Too many moving parts to say,” said Derek Cohen, director of Texas Public Policy Foundation’s criminal justice reform project, Right On Crime. “I don’t think it’s directly related, though [it] might be distally.”

“I’m on the fence. I think it is, I just don’t have the evidence to point to it,” Blain replied. “But I do believe that it is one of the reasons. You have people out of work and don’t have money, and people are naturally angry. And we had a summer of riots, so people are even more angry.”

But Blain does know an authority figure who agrees the government economic shutdowns and mandates are a factor, among others.

In his November 13 Weekly Reformer email on the nationwide crime wave, Blain reported the New York Police Department Chief of Crime Control Strategies “pointed to the pandemic lockdowns, the ongoing civil unrest, police budget cuts across the country, and, to a lesser extent, bail reforms efforts, as creating a perfect storm for these issues nationwide.”

Blain went on to write, “The drivers of [the crimewave] and solutions to it are local.”

What You Can Do About It

Blain believes improving government reporting on crime is a solution.

“More transparent and consistent reporting so that you can actually identify street trends and information like that,” Blain advises citizens. “Better and more thorough unified reporting from the local government—and probably from the state and federal governments—on crime would be helpful.”

“It would allow people to see trends year over year, trends in different types of crime, and truly understand what that means, and what that means for different communities,” he continued.

But if people’s economic pain is the root cause, what about the far left’s proposals to raid taxpayer funding from police and instead send it to government programs like income support, housing, and health? Wouldn’t that—as the left and some media frame it—“address the root causes of poverty and crime” and deal with the 2020 crime wave?

“As proposed, no,” Derek Cohen replied. “While every dollar spent by the government (including on law enforcement) must be scrutinized, proposals that divert money from enforcement capacity to social services wouldn’t help. Even if the services were necessary and effective for a given situation that led to criminal behavior, without the capacity to enforce the law and protect the service provider, the whole idea comes apart.”

For citizens concerned not only about the crime wave but also about having more police accountability and transparency, Right On Crime has published “A Contract for Public Safety” with 8 proposed reforms—most of which citizens can push for in their city councils and in the Texas Legislature.

“[L]ocal governments have a responsibility to adequately fund and oversee their departments through boards and to ensure that best standards and practices are always followed,” it reads in part.

In a prior interview, Blain advised citizens concerned with economic shutdowns and mandates imposed by local government entities in 2020 to make a list of the offenses and present them to their state representative and state senator. He also believes some revisions of local governments’ emergency powers are necessary. Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West has said it is time for the state Legislature to end mandates and executive overreach.

The 87th Legislative Session starts on January 12, 2021. Citizens concerned about rising crime, government economic shutdowns and mandates, and police accountability and transparency may contact their elected state representative, state senator, and local city council member.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


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