As Austin police investigate more than 80 homicides this year – a record number dating back more than five decades – District Attorney José Garza admitted on Tuesday that Austin, along with many other parts of the country, is in the process. struggling with “an alarming increase in gun violence and homicides.”
Garza and city leaders laid out their ongoing plans to prevent and reduce bloodshed, such as a more robust program that would require some suspects to surrender their weapons and a proposed trauma recovery center that would provide free counseling to people. victims.
“We have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent the loss of life here in Travis County, and I know we can,” Garza said.
Of the 717 gun-related arrests in Travis County this year, the prosecutor’s office has so far secured charges for 57% of the cases, negotiated plea deals for 15% and dismissed 4% of the cases.
Garza said the pandemic is a likely factor in the increase in crime in America.
“A majority of researchers who have looked at the rise in gun violence across the country have largely attributed it to the instability caused by the pandemic,” Garza said. “This pandemic is not over. This instability still exists, especially among underserved communities.”
Garza said it was important for him to strengthen his office’s firearms surrender program. In May, he began asking his prosecutors to ask judges, before a suspect was released from prison, if he had access to guns. If the answer is yes, prosecutors are asking the judge – who has final say on the terms of the bail – to order the person to turn the guns over to a Travis County police officer.
The policy applies to all cases of domestic violence and gun-related crimes. The policy also applies when a victim expresses fears that the suspect will use a gun, when the suspect has made threats of violence, or when there is evidence that the suspect is suicidal.
Garza said he wanted to start coordinating efforts with law enforcement, who could flag people in the criminal justice system who may be committing violence. Garza said his office is also planning to implement a gun diversion program that would force those accused of gun crimes into programs such as classes and therapy. .
The policy was implemented after former Travis County Deputy Stephen Broderick shot dead his wife, daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law’s boyfriend during a scheduled custody visit with her son , according to investigators.
Broderick spent 16 days in prison in 2020 for sexually assaulting a child. He posted his $ 50,000 bond and state District Judge Karen Sage subsequently ordered the removal of his GPS tracking device.
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His wife, Amanda Broderick, had written in a request for a protection order after her arrest that she was concerned for her safety and that of the children.
“I’m afraid he is trying to hurt me or my children because these allegations have been made public and he could lose his career,” she wrote. “Stephen has previous military experience and is trained in SWAT. If he wanted to hurt someone, he would know how.”
Other domestic violence murders have since taken place in Travis County. On October 26, James Marcus Neves, 57, shot dead his wife, Vanessa Neves, in their home “because I was being insulted,” he told the 911 dispatcher, according to his arrest affidavit. Their children, who were there at the time, told investigators he was drunk at the time. The children were safely removed from the premises.
Neves is charged with murder and is being held in the Travis County Correctional Complex in lieu of $ 1.75 million bail. According to state criminal records, Neves’ only past charges were for impaired driving.
Michelle Myles – the program manager for the city’s new violence prevention office – and Austin City Council member Alison Alter on Tuesday called for the creation of a trauma recovery center.
“I’m excited to continue this, to make it happen.… They provide not only psychotherapy services, but also case management and legal services for people who have been victims of violent crime,” Myles said.
Alter said she hopes the center can be built as part of a partnership with the city and Central Health.