AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Police Department (APD) is changing its protocols as efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic ramp up.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he is putting new restrictions in place for officers to respond to the coronavirus threat but said they will still enforce the law during this time. The chief said it's important that officers strike a balance between keeping Austin safe, their own personal safety and not potentially spreading the virus.
"I do not want people to think that we are backing away from public safety," Manley told KVUE. "We want to follow the City's efforts and the CDC guidelines in minimizing contact, but we will still do our job and keep the community safe."
According to the chief, calls about minor crimes that do not require an officer response will be handled by phone or with an online report.
Officers will not respond to crashes when there are no injuries and when cars can still be driven.
Officers will use their own discretion about whether to stop a driver for non-hazardous traffic violations like having an expired inspection sticker, but doing so is discouraged. However, officers will keep performing traffic stops for hazardous violations such as excessive speeding, according to the department.
They will keep responding to the most serious calls for service, including those when a person's property or life is at risk. They will also keep arresting people, including for misdemeanor crimes that do not qualify for APD's cite-and-release program.
The lobby of the APD headquarters has been secured and access at sub-stations is restricted to prevent unnecessary contact. Phones will be provided for those visiting and admission will be allowed for those with a need, police said on Tuesday.
Sex offender check-in operations will be amended as well, police said. Offenders who are newly released to our community will still be processed and registered.
“Currently registered offenders who come to APD to conduct their check-in will confirm that the information we have on file is still accurate and be instructed to call and make an appointment to come back at a later date for in-person processing,” police said.
Public fingerprinting services and in-person report sales have been suspended. Anyone wanting to obtain a copy of a report is asked to follow instructions online.
APD said there will be no changes to the most serious calls for service where life and property are at immediate risk.
“It is important to note that we are not amending our response to critical calls where life or safety is jeopardized. We will continue to monitor these changes and update them as necessary,” police said.
The Austin Fire Department is also making changes to the way it responds to medical calls. Firefighters will now wear additional equipment, including face masks, gowns and full eye goggles to keep themselves and patients safe.
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