DPS troopers help boost SXSW safety, state to absorb cost

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As many as 45 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers a day are helping Austin police officers during South by Southwest, working at street closure locations in the downtown area. SXSW event organizers reached out to the State of Texas asking for resources to help with the 29th annual event.

“Based on the request by the Austin Police Department, DPS will be providing approximately 35 to 45 troopers (along with several sergeants) per day through March 21,” wrote DPS spokesperson Tom Vinger in an email. “The exact number will depend on what is requested by APD for that day.”

“This is the biggest festival in the world, the cops are stressed out, so I approached (Austin Police Chief) Art (Acevedo) and I approached Robert ‘Duke’ Bodisch, the number two person at DPS, and Duke said he would (help out),” SXSW spokesman Bill Miller tells KXAN.

APD executives told KXAN about this year’s safety plan earlier this month. This year, on top of regular downtown patrol officers, 30 extra officers a day have been used for barricade duty. Some of those are detectives with full caseloads, who must set those files aside this week. Those 30 officers are to be replaced next weekend by uniformed members of the Special Response Unit. A DPS spokesperson confirms the troopers from as far afield as Waco and San Antonio will stay on barricade duty through the end of the festival.

The viability of any decision to bring in outside agencies was a question KXAN’s Robert Maxwell asked when he sat down with Asst. Chief Chris McIlvain March 3. McIlvain said that was not being considered this year because ‘continuity of service’ was a primary concern.

“Can we move in the direction of putting all this on overtime and maybe having an agreement with some external agencies? There’s so many things we can look into. For 2015 obviously we’re set,” McIlvain said at the time.

He was referring to operational issues such as aligning radio codes and how other agencies respond to use of force incidents, for example. KXAN has asked APD how that may have been worked out with DPS. But for SXSW organizers, it’s all good news.

“This is a great example of cooperation between state and city first responders during SXSW, which came about through the assistance of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and APD Chief Art Acevedo,” Miller said in a statement.

APD is already prepared to spend $350,000 for officer overtime from a City Special Events fund. Overtime costs last year topped $470,000, records show. McIlvain said the department would prefer to staff the entire festival using overtime funds, instead of moving regular duty officers and detectives off their assignments. The newly-formed Austin Public Safety Committee is expected to tackle the issue of paying for public safety at SXSW later this year. The committee, made up of city council members, is set to meet for the first time March 23 according to Council Member Don Zimmerman.

DPS troopers were already on the job Sunday, working at several intersections throughout the city’s core.

“The extra troopers will help Austin police detectives continue working on their existing case loads, instead of working the street closures — as originally anticipated,” a statement from SXSW read. “This year’s event is expected to bring in over $300 million to the Texas economy.”

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