Austin neighborhood hires Travis County constables to patrol, ticket

'Drive Like Your Kids Live Here' yard sign (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)
'Drive Like Your Kids Live Here' yard sign (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Concerns about inadequate staffing of patrol officers at the Austin Police Department has neighborhoods across the city taking safety enforcement matters into their own hands, by hiring Travis County constables to conduct directed patrols.

“Several of the neighbors were concerned about the amount of speeding that was going on, especially during the rush hour periods of time,” explained Pieter Sybesma, president of the Highland Park West Balcones Area Association, or HPWBANA. “It was difficult to get APD, with their manpower shortage, out here during those rush hour times to do any sort of traffic enforcement.”

In hopes of offering their own solution to combat crime and increase safety and security in the area, the association began hiring a constable in 2015 at a rate of $60 per hour. That year, neighbors donated funds to pay for 118 hours of patrol and spent nearly $6,000. In 2015, the constable performed 328 traffic stops in the neighborhood.

This 'Please Drive Slowly' sign can be found in the Highland Park West Balcones Area neighborhood. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)
This ‘Please Drive Slowly’ sign can be found in the Highland Park West Balcones Area neighborhood. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)

In 2016, the neighborhood spent nearly $8,000 on patrols — for 136 hours. The constable made 378 traffic stops.

By the end of 2017, the neighborhood hopes to hire a constable for more than 150 patrol hours, which would cost $9,000. So far this year, the constable has conducted 171 traffic stops.

“We just want to make it as safe a neighborhood as possible,” said Sybesma, whose neighborhood is just west of North MoPac near Ranch to Market 2222. “The concern is that APD does not have enough patrol officers to be able to at least do the traffic enforcement that neighborhoods want and expect, especially on the major streets that go through their neighborhoods.”

Highland Park West Balcones Area Neighborhood Association, HPWBANA (City of Austin)
Highland Park West Balcones Area Neighborhood Association, HPWBANA (City of Austin)

Sybesma says he believes part of the problem is that drivers use the neighborhood as a cut-through to avoid traffic.

“There’s so much traffic that’s coming through, we think especially because of the MoPac construction. Everyone can drive the streets, we just want them to follow the speed limits,” he said. “It’s dangerous for our people, for our neighbors.”

Neighbors say they believe it’s working.

“I’ve seen him stop people on this street,” said homeowner, Dena Houston. “[They’re just] trying to keep people from talking on their phones in a school zone, because the school zone’s right down the street, and from speeding. It’s really very simple.”

Rush hour target hours for hire are generally between 7-9 a.m. and 2-6 p.m.

Houston says it’s worth every penny. “You just can’t put a price on the safety of the children and the people in this neighborhood.”

The constable primarily issues traffic citations in the neighborhood by enforcing state law, not city ordinances, which include speed limit, school zone, and cut-through traffic violations. The tickets are sorted through the Justice of the Peace Court, not the Municipal Court.

For more information about the neighborhood’s decision or to donate, click here. 

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