AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department has bumped up the overtime for South by Southwest compared to years past.
At the start of the decade, when the festival was much smaller, Austin Police paid out just over $100,000 in overtime, then in 2013, it was $600,000. This year, the department plans to shell out $1.5 million for all sworn officers working overtime.
In past years, officers have been forced to work SXSW, pulling patrols from other areas of the city, but now officers volunteer.
The department says it not only benefits officers, but also improves public safety throughout the city limits.
“We didn’t want resources to be taken away from other parts of the city,” Assistant Police Chief Jason Dusterhoff says. The consideration of how to get those resources, was one of the changes that was made when deciding what officers must patrol the spring festival.
“They were pulling officers from all over the city in different areas of town like Circle-C, Rob Roy, east Austin. They were all working short because all of the officers were down here [at SXSW] working,” Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association says.
The Association was able to negotiate changes in their contract, which means in 2016 and 2017, officers now volunteer to work the festival.
“We felt that this way, officers can volunteer their time off and come down and work it and will be paid for, instead of saying, ‘We’re going to take you off your regular duty and bring you down here,'” Assistant Chief Dusterhoff said.
Before the changes, one worry was that not enough officers would step up for SXSW. “We’ve had plenty of people volunteering, and in fact we filled out vacancies about a month before the start of SXSW,” Casaday said.
Bob Woody, a bar owner with more than 20 properties says he has not noticed a difference in patrols. “I feel like we can accommodate it with what we’ve got I feel 100 percent,” Woody said.
Business owners say their real concerns with safety lie two blocks over at the homeless shelter.
“I’s very close to our entertainment district and it somewhat problematic for that fact because an officer has to leave his post to go process someone that is a habitual revolving door type situation,” Woody said. “The proximity of our homeless shelter creates a lot of issues for officers.”
Police won’t say how many officers are downtown for tactical reasons.
They do say, they have their special response team on standby for the weekend which will add an additional 120 officers.