The argument for Prop A – the GOP-backed initiative to pressure town of Austin to rent 500+ extra cops – is premised on the notion that Texas’ capital has grow to be uniquely harmful on account of town council’s anti-law enforcement insurance policies. Native media have doubled down on this meme, touting Austin’s “file” variety of homicides whereas downplaying the truth that we’re now a metropolis of one million individuals and the file was set 40 years in the past.
How journalists current this data tells us extra about them than whether or not Austin is a protected city. You possibly can run with the scary headline, “Austin hits all-time homicide file,” or the equally correct, “Austin has barely extra murders than when it was a a lot smaller city 40 years in the past.” The previous may match higher as clickbait (which is why they do it – hello, Tony Plohetski!) however the latter, contextualized account provides a extra correct sense of the menace.
Although you would not comprehend it from the native media’s framing, the homicide spike in Austin final 12 months tracked nationwide developments and different Texas cities – together with Republican-led communities like Fort Value and Lubbock – saw even greater increases. So the notion that the homicide spike resulted from Austin-specific insurance policies or native attitudes towards police are doubtful at finest: No one thinks Lubbock’s metropolis council is anti-police, and so they noticed a 105% enhance in homicides final 12 months.
Even if you happen to assume crime is an issue, there’s sturdy proof hiring extra police will not assist. The query of whether or not hiring extra police reduces crime has been intensively studied for many years with constant findings, in response to a 2013 metastudy analyzing a whole lot of analysis findings over 40 years. These researchers concluded, “This line of analysis has exhausted its utility. Altering policing technique is prone to have a larger affect on crime than including extra police.”
Prof. Invoice Spelman, a criminologist and former Austin metropolis council member, now retired from UT’s LBJ Faculty, made similar assertions on local Fox news this week. He pointed to the dearth of correlation between police staffing measurement and murder will increase final 12 months, noting that departments of all sizes noticed homicide spikes, together with companies with excessive and low staffing ratios alike.
Certainly, Prop A arises from a basic misunderstanding of the security dangers confronted by the general public. Murders are a scary option to die, however in Austin they’re an extremely unusual one. By comparability, a couple of thousand Austinites have died from COVID prior to now 12 months and a half. Prof. Spelman analyzed the varied loss of life dangers in Austin and in contrast them to nationwide averages. This is what he discovered:
Austinites are far much less prone to die from murders than different Individuals, however we’re not doing practically so properly on drug overdoses and suicide. In reality, former Austin Police Chief Brian Manley refused to permit cops to hold donated Narcan to stop overdose deaths, declaring that offering medical care was EMS’s job. His successor, Joe Chacon, reversed that coverage earlier this 12 months, however police in Austin haven’t till VERY not too long ago thought-about drug overdoses their downside.
Austin PD has additionally resisted efforts to ship mental-health staff to suicide calls. The town funded a pilot to have groups led by medical professionals deal with most of those instances, however after the primary 12 months, few real-world calls had been diverted.
Suicides and drug overdoses aren’t areas the place police play a significant function and rising their quantity will not stop deaths by these causes.
Certainly, in Austin, specifically, the largest sources of site visitors deaths stem from flaws in site visitors engineering. This metropolis has till not too long ago prioritized vehicle site visitors over bikes and pedestrians, so when these teams work together with vehicles, it usually does not finish properly. Public-works enchancment like segregated bike lanes and pedestrian tunnels will do extra to stop these deaths than hiring additional cops. However satirically, Prop A would stop such spending by forcing town to prioritize hiring police.
Spelman’s analysis re-frames the public-safety query extra broadly to incorporate ALL the threats individuals face, not simply scary murderers. And as quickly as one considers that broader query, the murders do not appear so scary. They’re horrible occasions taking place to small numbers of parents, however their existence should not trigger us to de-prioritize responses to threats that pose equally grave hazard to much more individuals.