As part of a new plan launched by Austin Police Department's Downtown Area Command to tackle violent crimes, people will see more officers biking, walking and talking to people around the area.
APD says violent crimes are up in the area two percent between 2015 and 2016. The plan is not innovative, but Cmdr. Justin Newsom said it works.
"It's just an old-fashioned cop on a beat," Newsom explained, "interacting with business owners and visitors and residents, but also with those who may be potentially there to commit crime."
Being more visible has been a simple but effective way for police to deter crime. Newsom said the redeployment was his answer to Interim Chief Brian Manley's mandate to all commanders to decrease violent crimes in their areas using the resources they already have.
Newsom said there are only between 10 to 12 officers who patrol the downtown area. You may find that surprising, especially when the Austin Downtown Alliance reported in May 2016 that there are more than 86,000 people who work in downtown and more than 12,000 people who live in the area.
Newsom's plan splits the downtown area into four districts, or the four areas with the highest call volume.
The boundaries for the four areas are:
- Colorado River to 12th Street, Chicon Street to Interstate 35
- Colorado River to 12th Street, Trinity Street to Interstate 35
- Colorado River to 12th Street, Trinity Street to Congress Avenue
- Colorado River to 12th Street, Congress Avenue to Lamar Blvd
Officers are assigned to each district and are in charge of keeping or reducing crimes. Newsom said this way, they have ownership of what they are doing.
District 2 encompasses the ARCH, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. It sits on the corner of Seventh and Neches Streets. Police or paramedics respond to K2-related incidents at the location every day.
Police said people who use the ARCH aren't the problem. The problem exists with some of the people who loiter outside.
One such man approached a KVUE News crew, upset they were shooting video on public property. He threatened to smash our camera with a baseball bat and "tear this son of a ***** up." He also threatened to physically harm our reporter when she asked him not to touch the camera. He also asked the crew for $20.
Newsom arrived shortly afterward and pointed out that this is the perfect example of the number one complaint they get from businesses: Aggressive panhandling.
Despite the incident, Newsom said, "the homeless are not bad people," just a few bad apples in the entire population.
He said the same of panhandlers. Only a few bad ones are aggressively panhandling, which is against the law.
It is also illegal to panhandle, aggressive or otherwise, after 7 p.m.
Here are more numbers from the Austin Downtown Alliance:
- About 1.6 million square feet of new office space is in the development pipeline
- 3,300 new condos have been built since 2000 in addition to several thousand apartment units
- There are nearly 1,000 more condo units under construction
- Downtown tourism attracts 24 million visitors per year
- There are more than 8,000 downtown hotel rooms with about 2,000 more under development
- Visitor industry has a $7 billion economic impact on the entire city from visitor spending.
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