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A 'small minority' of violent crime downtown involves homelessness, APD assistant chief says

Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Joe Chacon spoke at an Austin City Council Meeting on Tuesday.

AUSTIN, Texas — During a city council discussion Tuesday regarding Austin's ongoing homeless issues, Mayor Steve Adler called on Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Joe Chacon to express his thoughts on recent crime in the downtown area.

While on the stand, Chacon provided the following statement:

“Working through the homeless working group strategy committee that we have, that what you said exactly is what happens: You have one incident that is reported and it catches fire on social media. I think that education is the key. I think that we have a good communications strategy on how we’re pushing out the correct message in really what reality is. That when we’re looking at our violent crime incidents, especially in the downtown area, that a small minority of them involve an individual experiencing homelessness. What is driving that right now is gun crime, it is people that are not homeless, and we put things in place to begin to push that down, and that is working. But I think that education and the communication piece is going to be key in that.”

Mayor Adler thanked the assistant chief for his statements, stating it's a concept more Austinites need to understand.

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"There are some pretty loud voices right now on social media that are pushing isolated incidences as if they were the norm and creating fear in our community, which does not make us a safer place," said Adler. "I know that we had a spike in crime a year ago as we were moving into the spring festival season. No one at that time suggested that it had to do with people experiencing homelessness."

In response to last year's crime, Adler said the police reacted by boosting their presence downtown, which helped bring that spike back down.

"We now have another spike and I saw the chief the other day telling the community that he was going to redo that greater presence again," said Adler. "And I hope and expect that it has the same impact that it had before."

He also told Assistant Chief Chacon that if the police department needs anything from the council, to please ask.

This comes at a time where many recent news stories have been reported on and shared across social media by both the public and elected officials. 

One of those is Gov. Greg Abbott, who has frequently used social media to call out the Austin City Council regarding their homeless policies. Most recently, Gov. Abbott tweeted at the City of Austin over the weekend after a man allegedly threatened children playing at a church playground.

"City policing is the City's job," Abbott said. "City leaders aren't giving police what they need."

He continued by tweeting, "I raised concerns about this lawlessness when Austin ended the ban on camping. When rules are removed lawlessness ensues. I will seek legislation overriding Austin’s reckless approach. Until legislation is passed State law enforcement & health agencies will try to fill gaps."

RELATED: Man arrested after threatening to kill children at Austin church playground, police say

Mayor Adler's office responded to the governor by saying, "We remain focused on getting people homes and services. Constructive help from the state would include support for mental health treatment." 

Mayor Adler himself later told KVUE that people who are homeless are also victims of crime themselves.

"If you are experiencing homelessness, you are much more likely a victim of a crime than to be someone that perpetuates a crime," Adler said. "[It] doesn't do us any good to demonize those folks or create doubt or anxiety where the data will not indicate that should happen."

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