Austin’s machete crime problem

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(The Center Square) – Austin has a machete crime problem, with unprovoked and deadly attacks plaguing residents committed by men wielding long-bladed 12 to 26-inch-long knives.

Machetes have historically been used as agricultural tools or as military weapons in countries like Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Rwanda, among others. In Texas, Alamo hero James Bowie made famous the “Bowie Knife,” although machete users have chosen a different type of knife to attack Austinites in this latest wave.

Cleo Petricek, a Democrat and co-founder of the Save Austin Now PAC, called on Gov. Greg Abbott for help and for local officials to crack down on machete crimes in Austin.

“Machete attacks are common in Austin,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “They also cost only $6.99 at local stores, and anyone can purchase them. It’s really sad to see that we haven’t had a visible presence of law enforcement (Park Patrol) due to the police staffing crisis caused by defunding our police.”

Petricek posted examples of unprovoked machete attacks in Austin after the most recent one occurred along a hiking trail near Auditorium Shores earlier this month. On Jan. 9, 24-year-old Ashton Kaine Talley, of Kyle, Texas, allegedly attacked Seth Gott, a 19-year-old college student who was out walking. Gott survived life-threatening injuries after nearly being hacked to death. Talley was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of evading arrest, according to the Austin Police Department. He was booked in the Travis County Jail; his bond was set at over $1 million, according to multiple news reports.

A private security guard at the Austin Proper Hotel also survived an unprovoked machete attack last August by a “repeat offender [who] attacked and permanently disfigured” him, the Austin Police Association reported. “Thankfully our officers were able to arrive on scene quickly to apprehend the suspect and provide life-saving aid to the victim.”

Police have responded to machete attacks near homeless encampments, at the University of Texas-Austin, and in areas citywide. The perpetrators appear to be men of different ethnicities; the victims appear to be random and unknown to them. Some attacks appeared to be connected to meth users.

APA President Michael Bullock called on “elected officials to stand up and take the necessary steps to support public safety, stop the seemingly never-ending attacks, and for prosecutors to actually do their job and prosecute these violent criminals.”

Petricek said Austin City Council members need to enforce Proposition B, the homeless encampment ban Save Austin Now championed, which voters passed into law. “The city needs to designate safe campgrounds with security, away from shared public spaces,” she said. Travis County District Attorney José Garza also “needs to prosecute crime and hold offenders accountable” and city council members must “restore police staffing by supporting a 4-year contract” immediately, she said.

Petricek helped lead the unsuccessful attempt to rehire APD officers after the Austin City Council defunded the APD in 2020. The city hasn’t recovered from the city council slashing APD’s budget by $150 million, police say. APD didn’t hold a police academy for two years, hundreds of officers retired and quit, multiple cadet classes were canceled, multiple units responsible for responding to DWIs, domestic violence calls, stalking, and criminal interdiction, among others, were disbanded.

Critics have pointed out the problem isn’t just defunding the police but an overall approach to crime. Garza implemented a policy to throw out cases including serious felony charges, he advocates for lighter bail policies and actively pursues cases against APD officers.

Last December, a Travis County resident filed a petition seeking to remove Garza from office “due to incompetency and official misconduct.”

When violent offenders have been prosecuted, they may only be sentenced to a few weeks in jail, critics note. When time already served in jail counts towards sentencing, many perpetrators are immediately released who then go on to commit additional crimes, law enforcement officials have argued.

Consequences of city policies range from surging homicide rates to few personnel being able to respond to 911 calls quickly.

In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott and the legislature enacted “Back the Blue” laws tying state funding to cities that defund their police departments. The laws went into effect in 2022. Abbott also directed Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to augment law enforcement efforts in Austin.

Last fall, DPS Commander Steve McCraw gave an update on the results of DPS implementing “proactive policing, high visibility patrols” in Austin. In one example over a specific time period, DPS troopers made over 1,500 arrests for homicide, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary. DPS troopers were also called in to apprehend and prevent street takeover gangs.

Despite Austin policies, Abbott has repeatedly vowed, “Texas remains a law-and-order state and we continue to make it abundantly clear that we support our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep communities safe.”

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