Hispanics reporting crime less, but so are others
No evidence in Austin of chilling effect from immigration sweeps.
Austin has seen a decrease in reported crimes so far this year across all demographics, including Hispanics, which police leaders say is a “normal fluctuation” and not necessarily a reaction to recent federal immigration sweeps.
Compared with the same period last year, citywide crime reports showed a 5.7 percent drop in the first two months of the year. The data for Latinos nearly matched that trend, as Austin police saw an overall 5.6 percent decline in crime reports from that group.
But the data set for Latinos isn’t large enough for the Austin Police Department to draw any conclusions, especially because it coincides with an overall drop in crime so far in 2017.
“What I am seeing looks like normal fluctuation in crime that we would see over a number of years as opposed to a reduction based on fear of reporting and fear
of interaction with police,” Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon said.
He also reached out to many individuals within the department to see if their interactions with the immigrant community have changed in recent weeks.
“What I overwhelmingly heard back was ‘no,’ they did not hear of any big change in interactions,” Chacon said “They are not seeing and I am sure not hearing that people aren’t cooperating because of fear of immigration officials.”
Chacon’s findings might allay some fears that Austin’s immigrant community would report fewer crimes after federal immigration agents recently conducted sweeps resulting in more than 50 arrests.
Some in the immigrant community fear that police would report crime victims to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if police discovered they were in the country illegally.
But Austin police have said that they don’t initiate investigations into a person’s immigration or citizen status.
When Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced new limitations in January on federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants in the Travis County Jail, she cited public trust as a factor in creating the policy. Hernandez said she was worried that giving federal immigration agents unrestricted access to inmates would erode the years of trust and cooperation built up between her officers and the immigrant community.
Those concerns are shared among some law enforcement officials nationwide. Last week, the Los Angeles police chief said reports of sexual assault and family violence among Latinos had dropped, amid fears that interacting with police would result in deportation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In Austin, the number of sexual assaults and family violence reports in which Latinos are victims also is down from 2016.
The leader of Austin police’s union also said he hasn’t heard of Latinos interacting with police differently or less often than since the ICE sweeps.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said what concerns him, and officers on the streets, is a recent spate of violent crimes that doesn’t seem to have ended.
A shooting Sunday marked Austin’s eighth homicide of the year. At this time in 2016, Austin police were investigating three killings. Last year ended with police logging the most homicides in years and an overall 10 percent increase in violent crime.
“It seems like we have a shooting almost every day,” Casaday said.