AUSTIN (KXAN) — People who live in an east Austin neighborhood say they’re not getting the same police service as the rest of the city, and worry it could lead to disaster this Independence Day.
Neighbors in the Berdoll Farms area, just southeast of the airport, say intense illegal firework activity that crops up during various celebrations spark fears of house fires.
The city annexed that piece of land at the end of 2006, and Henry Floyd said for the last several years, he’s noticed a lull in police activity.
“It’s quiet,” he said of the neighborhood. “It was quiet.”
What Floyd does see from the Austin Police Department is the occasional patrol car driving through the neighborhood on the way to a different part of the city.
“You’re looking for a law enforcement presence, and there isn’t one,” he said.
He’s noticed more crime lately on the east edge of town, he said, including burglaries, car thefts, and even more violent crimes.
There are still a two significant unsolved homicide investigations near the neighborhood; the bodies of four men were found after a house fire on Linden Road last Sept. 8. Travis County deputies said drug deals may have played a role in this case, but so far they don’t have suspects.
Just weeks later, on Sept. 27, a neighbor found the decomposed bodies of two men in a field on Pearce Lane. No arrests have been made in that case, either.
What worries Floyd this July 4, though, is the video he recorded around New Year’s from his camera doorbell.
It shows a large fireworks display right outside his front door, some appearing to launch from the neighborhood corner just a few feet from his property.
It is illegal to use fireworks within Austin city limits, or within 5,000 feet — close to a mile — of city borders.
“This looks like a war zone,” Floyd told Austin City Council last month. He played them the video as well, asking for more regular police service.
APD Assistant Chief Frank Dixon said there hasn’t been a steady spike in crime around the area, but the department is working to have two officers in the area more regularly instead of one.
That way, he said, if one officer is responding to a call, there’s still resources available to patrol.
Also, in the coming days, the department will reorganize how commanders are deployed across various sectors of the city. Austin is divided into four regions for police coverage, and 10 sectors — one being the airport — within those. Berdoll Farms is in Henry sector.
Most commanders cover two sectors right now. Sunday, July 9, that’s going to change, Dixon said.
APD will split up Charlie and Henry sectors on the east side of the city, assigning a commander to each. It will do the same with sectors Baker and Ida in the UT/West Campus and I-35/East US 290 areas, respectively.
The idea is to give commanders more opportunities to interact with the communities they serve and get a better sense for where and how they should deploy their resources.
Berdoll Farms residents hoped more resources would reach them by Tuesday evening, when they expected the next barrage of fireworks, “almost to a level of insanity,” Charles Ellisor, another neighbor, said.
“Debris on top of the houses,” he said. “You can hear it hitting the windows. That’s a really large amount of fireworks.”
Floyd, Ellisor and other neighbors worried about their houses catching fire in an Independence Day celebration.
“I mean, there’s no regard for any of your neighbors when you’re putting off that kind of a display,” Ellisor said.
Dixon said APD will have extra officers on patrol around the neighborhood — and all over — specifically to respond to 311 calls about illegal fireworks. The neighbors’ concerns, he said, is not unique this time of year.
“Work with the community,” Floyd implored. “Be part of our community. That’s what we want.”
He hopes more July 4 patrols are just the start — and the end to their personal fireworks shows.