APD: More police cars at SXSW won’t affect safety elsewhere

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Moving as many as 87 marked patrol vehicles to serve as barricades at key intersections during the nine-day South by Southwest festival in March may increase police response times in other parts of the city ‘a bit,’ but officer strength will remain the same, senior Austin Police executives told the city’s Public Safety Commission on Monday.

That’s because officers working in other sectors of the city will double up in a single vehicle. Instead of responding to a serious call for service each in their own patrol vehicle, both officers will respond in one, freeing up the other vehicle for intersection barricade duty. Depending on the day of the festival, 67 to 87 marked vehicles with highly visible flashing lights will be used, police confirmed.

But taking patrol vehicles out of the mix will be considered a last resort according to the top officer responsible for safety at Austin’s public events.

“We’re looking at (whether we) can… pull training vehicles from the APD Academy, highway enforcement (officers) with take-home vehicles,” Asst. Chief Jason Dusterhoft told commissioners. He added other, likely unmarked, vehicles could come from the Burglary and Organized Crime units.

Much of what Dusterhoft shared in the monthly public city hall forum is what he told KXAN last month. The plan would include:

  • Positioning more police vehicles as barricades at key downtown intersections
  • More live HALO camera surveillance during the festival including a covert, mobile surveillance camera now being tested
  • Improved lighting along Sixth Street
  • Better managing vehicle traffic flow around the festival as well as emergency vehicle access

APD at SXSW: By the numbers

Scottish hip hop group Young Fathers performs on the Doritos #BoldStage at the South by Southwest Music Festival on Saturday, March 15, 2014. (Photo by Darren Abate/Invision for Frito-Lay/AP Images)
Scottish hip hop group Young Fathers performs on the Doritos #BoldStage at SXSW March 15, 2014. (Photo by Darren Abate/Invision for Frito-Lay/AP Images)

APD also plans to have 120 crowd control officers working the main weekend of SXSW as well as 21 others dedicated to being part of Code Enforcement compliance teams. Ten additional officers will be used to keep traffic jams to a minimum. Finally, to allow the regular shifts of downtown patrol officers to respond to routine calls, 20 to 30 officers will be assigned to 911 calls only, Dusterhoft explained.

The special public safety teams come into being the same year city council approved an ordinance allowing for multi-day permits for outdoor venues. City staff say to date, no one has applied for any.

The whole public safety operation will be managed from a special command center at the City of Austin building on Barton Springs Road.

Dusterhoft is also excited about the idea for future festivals to install removable steel road blocks along intersections of Sixth Streets, similar to ones already used in crowd-friendly cities like New Orleans. The devices can be installed in seconds and removed as quickly. But they offer pedestrians the protection from errant vehicles.

Changes follow 2014 SXSW tragedy

SXSW memorialThe changes come after the 2014 tragedy in which a suspected impaired driver fled a police traffic stop and into the festival zone where he crashed through a thin metal and plastic road barricade and continued into a crowd of pedestrians and cyclists, killing four and injuring more than 20. Numerous lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks against the private company that profits from SXSW as the city continues plans for this year’s edition of the popular festival which has made Austin home for 27 years.

SXSW.com has already posted a draft road closure plan. This year, city officials confirm they will approve the final safety and road closure plan 30 to 40 days ahead of the first day of the Interactive, Film and Music Festival which runs March 13-22, 2015.

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