AUSTIN - A new Austin police initiative has extra officers riding bikes on the Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake every day.
It's a direct result of the three sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults of female joggers that happened in August and September on and near the trail.
The project started on Oct. 2 and has downtown and parks police officers riding the entire 10.4 miles of the trail from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. every day.
Officers Rene Labadens and Michael Pham are with the Parks Unit. They look for illegal and suspicious activity, like curfew violators. Anyone on the trail or in city parks between midnight and 5 a.m. are asked to leave.
Police say camping is also a big problem.
"We've found a few illegal campsites along the trail," said Labadens.
Police also said the violators so far are mostly, if not all, from the homeless community.
"It's definitely a problem that we need to address as a city," Pham added.
These two officers are also the same ones who found Richard McEachern, days after police said McEachern sexually assaulted a female jogger in September on the trail near Rainey Street.
Officer Pham described how they found him.
"We weren't really sure what it was until we got a little closer and we noticed a person wrapped inside a blanket and you kind of saw through the blanket and immediately saw that the person was completely naked waist down," said Pham.
While McEachern has been charged, the two other assaults on female joggers are still unsolved. One happened in late August at the Austin High School track before 5 a.m. The other occurred in late September along Lakeshore Boulevard just before 7 a.m.
Still, the officers said they see many runners jogging by themselves before dawn.
"I see people that are very confident in their surroundings and sometimes there is a bit of complacency with that confidence," said Labadens.
Which doesn't surprise Brett Cullen. She used to run on the trail pre dawn until she heard about the attacks. Now she runs during her lunch breaks.
"A lot of Austin women are dedicated runners and you never think it's going to be you, and a training schedule is a training schedule," said Cullen.
The 30-day initiative ends Oct. 31 but KVUE was able to obtain preliminary warnings police have issued so far. Thus far, officers have issued more than 125 warnings as part of this initiative.
This effort is in addition to the Run with a Cop program which has the APD SWAT team running with members of the public.
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