AUSTIN, Texas — For some of the busiest, most crowded events in Austin, like SXSW, the Austin Police Department has a specialized unit specifically trained to deal with crowd control.
It’s called SRT, or the Special Response Team. There are more than 100 police officers in the department on SRT, and it’s led by Assistant Chief Justin Newsom.
"I've been on it since day one, ever since 1999,” Asst. Chief Newsom said.
The SRT understands crowd dynamics and how to keep them under control.
"Just being patient, being ready and trained to take action, but knowing when to take action is probably the biggest thing that we do,” Asst. Chief Newsom said.
And during SXSW, on Wednesday night through Saturday night, more than 100 SRT officers are deployed in the small downtown area between the barricades of Fifth and Seventh Streets, from Red River Street to Brazos Street.
That’s how many officers typically work an entire sector in Austin.
"You think about the city's nine geographic sectors that we have, there's about 100 cops in those that work those entire big sectors. We put that many cops in a six-block area during SXSW,” Asst. Chief Newsom said.
Additionally, after a driver plowed through barricades at SXSW in 2014, killing four people, police learned new tactics to keep people safe at the massive event.
That includes using bigger barricades and putting patrol cars in front of them.
The problem is, the department is short on patrol cars as it is, so this year Asst. Chief Newsom said The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stepped in to help. DPS gave APD an additional 30 patrol cars to place in front of the barricades.
SRT is also watching every move from both the ground level and from up above.
They have officers on street level, on roofs, watching the HALO cameras around downtown and they use APD’s Air 1 helicopter.
"It's not uncommon for someone to fire a gun off downtown, for our HALO officers who are watching those cameras to find the person and then direct officers to him safely so they can take him into custody and retrieve the weapon,” Asst. Chief Newsom said.
SRT will be working downtown through 4 a.m. Sunday.