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A mix of surging crime rates, unprecedented officer attrition, and weak prosecution of violent crime have imperiled the largest police departments in Texas over the last few years, the police chiefs of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin said at the Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.
“There’s a lack of value for life and people’s health,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. “On the street, I think there is no fear of consequences.”
There have been 183 homicides in San Antonio so far this year, an 86.7% increase over the same time frame in 2021, with the deaths of 53 migrants during a human trafficking operation in June inflating the numbers.
Houston saw a massive crime spike in 2021 as the city experienced 473 homicides last year, up from 261 in 2020. Texas’ largest city has seen 323 murders so far in 2022, a slight decline from the 327 homicides that were reported during the same time frame last year.
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Troy Finner, the chief of the Houston Police Department, laid the blame on the coronavirus pandemic’s shutdown of the court system and a “fractured criminal justice system.”
“The DAs are arguing with the police chiefs. Police chiefs are arguing with the judges. Everybody has to come together, but more importantly, you cannot excuse and just act like it’s not there,” Finner said on Saturday. “
“It’s very frustrating to me, as a chief, when our men and women are running to danger and dealing with all of this crap that’s out there right now, and nobody wants to talk about the common sense things,” Finner continued.
“You’ve got to have a system where violent individuals are tried – they deserve their fair trial – convicted, and put in jail. There’s a place for violent offenders. And when we do that, we get it cranked up right, you’ll see a reduction in crime, guaranteed.”
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Austin saw 89 homicides last year, a record high for the city but still a relatively low number given the state capital’s population of about one million. The Austin Police Department’s ability to respond to rising crime rates has been complicated by a high level of attrition.
Joseph Chacon, the chief of APD, said that before the coronavirus pandemic, five to seven police officers would leave the force per month on average, but that number jumped to 25 or more a month in the spring of 2020.
“It was really a one-two punch, with COVID hitting in March of 2020, and then the George Floyd incident happening in May,” Chacon said.
“Between those two, I saw a record number of people resigning and retiring.”
Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.