by Joanne Foote
Tuesday’s Police Commander Forum topics covered a range of issues: the recent police shooting of a dog named Cisco; the respect paid to a fallen officer; the importance of citizens working with officers, and identifying graffiti. More than 40 people attended the meeting, which was held at the Clinton Hunter Police Substation Tuesday night, April 17.
Region IV (South) Austin Police Department Commander Steve Deaton kicked off the quarterly Forum wanting to clarify a recent incident that has been spreading across the news and Internet like wildfire. “It’s about Cisco the dog, who was shot recently by one of our officers—and it is a seriously sad set of circumstances.
“This story has gone viral,” Deaton continued, “but there is one important element that those in the media and on talk shows are leaving out: the human part of the equation. The story is we received a call from a concerned citizen reporting a possible aggravated assault between a man and a woman. However, the citizen, who was unfamiliar with the home, gave us an incorrect address to which we were dispatched. Our officer approached the home thinking he was walking into an assault situation and was charged by a dog.
“However, the dog charged the officer, who didn’t know if he is going to lick the officer, charge him or bite the officer to protect the owner. The officer’s attention is rightly on the person he is approaching and the dog is posing a distraction. The officer does not yet know that this is the wrong house or the wrong individual, and had to make a split decision—otherwise, he himself could end up in danger due to the situation, and the officer couldn’t be distracted by the dog’s potential actions. However, I feel bad for the dog owner and the well-meaning citizen who was doing the right thing by making the call. We are not proud of what happened and not trying to hide anything,” stated Deaton.
“On a much different note, and on behalf of the police department, I don’t know how many of you were out there for the police motorcade last week for Officer Padron, who was killed in the line of duty, but I had the biggest lump in my throat driving through this city. It was extremely moving for me. If you were part of the traffic on the roads paying respects, we appreciate the support and it went a long way to beginning the healing process,” expressed Deaton, still visibly emotional about the death of his fellow officer.
Cathy Haggerty is the Support Commander over all the detectives, Metro Tactical Units and District Representatives for south and southwest Austin. “The big thing last weekend was the Lonestar car club show. That event has grown every year, and we have had to enlist outside help from other Austin regions to keep the peace, but it was a safe and peaceful event,” she said.
District Representative Sergeant Jamie Jobes, supervisor of the area District Representatives (DR), who are designated officers for an assigned neighborhood. “We have had a lot of events going on recently. March and April have been very busy months for us. We have helped with Mardi Gras, SXSW, last weekend’s Lonestar Car Roundup up, The Texas Relays, warrant roundups, and we are getting caught up from all these events,” he said
“The good news is that last year our crimes stats were at their lowest point in six years. The bad news is that it can be hard to maintain those statistics, but we are doing our best. I personally attribute these lower stats to alert citizens reporting suspicious activity. Tonight we gave out awards to citizens representing a number of South Austin neighborhoods for doing just that. Their observations and quick actions to report the behaviors they noticed resulted in a number of arrests of individuals who were about to commit or were already in the act of committing a crime, mostly burglaries of residences. They weren’t afraid to make the call,” stated Jobes.
“Right now, the main concern going on in Southwest Austin is Burglary of Vehicle (BOV) crimes, mostly occurring in shopping center parking lots. The Arbor Trails shopping center, and areas at the corner of William Cannon and Mopac are seeing a lot of cars broken into, so we will be out in the area later this week, educating the community on the importance of taking or hiding your belongings that may be left in a vehicle to prevent break-ins. We will also be visiting with business owners and an officer will look into cars and put ‘tickets’ on windshields indicating if they saw any items in vehicles that would be tempting to a would-be thief,” Jobes said.
Regarding residential burglaries, some tips to remember are:
- Have your serial numbers recorded and photos of jewelry, etc.
- Use your cell phone to photograph serial numbers or jewelry and then email it to yourself. Don’t store the information on your computer in case that was to get stolen in a break-in.
Jobes said another ongoing problem in Oak Hill and all around Austin is the transient and homeless population, particularly those soliciting money at intersections. “This is against the law. We encourage you to call the police when you see that because it helps build our database and statistics so that we can dedicate more resources in the future. First, call it in, and second, don’t give money. It is better to donate through charitable organizations that help the homeless,” said Jobes.
A brief presentation was given by the Gang Unit, discussing Graffiti and its association with different gang memberships. Things to remember about graffiti:
- Report it: if you see graffiti in progress, call 911, but call 311 if you are reporting an area that has already been graffitied:
- Record it: take a picture of it and send it to APD.
- Remove it: paint over it completely. APD will remove it if it’s on public property, but other wise, it is best to remove it right away.
“We watch the movement of Graffiti because it can show us areas the gangs might be moving into,” said officer Manuel Jimenez. “This is a very brief presentation/overview, but we are available to come offer a longer presentation in your area if desired.” He also explained the difference between Taggers and gang graffiti. “Taggers use a lot of color and their main intent is art. Gang graffiti is usually one color and used to mark their territory.”
A citizen at the meeting inquired about the Castle Doctrine. The terminology, according to Wikipedia, refers to ‘your home is your castle.’ Commander Deaton explained it like this: “In Texas we have the Texas Penal Code, which is similar in intent. I am not sure if you are asking because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida that has been in the national news, who was shot by a Neighborhood Watch citizen. We had a case here that was very similar not long ago, but the difference is we made an arrest. The Castle Doctrine, or the Penal Code, basically states that when on your own property you don’t have to retreat against a threat. You have the right to defend your property. However, you also need to give the perceived intruder the right to retreat. There are many aspects to deal with, both legally and psychologically when you pull a weapon on someone and possibly kill another person. You need to think about it long before you ever get to that point.”
John Luther, a citizen who leads a successful neighborhood watch in the area of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, says there are three cardinal rules of Neighborhood watch:
- Neighborhood watch volunteers are never armed,
- The volunteer is never to get out of the car (call in what you see) and
- Never apprehend a suspicious person (which should be easy if you never get out of the car).
There has been a change in the Neighborhood watch program and the Train the Trainer program: it has been revamped and is now only two sessions instead of three. The group meets on the first Tuesday of the month from 6:30-8:00 p.m. and it is more hands-on.
Citizens inquired about the health of Police Chief Art Acevedo. “He is doing well. He has a hard time resting and taking a break, but we are encouraging him to relax when he can. Something very close to his heart is the Special Olympics, and he is very involved in the program. We are selling t-shirts to support the Texas Special Olympics, and 100% of the profits go to Special Olympics, which happens in May. We appreciate your support for this cause,” said Deaton.
Before the meeting ended, Commander Haggerty came in to share a little surprise to the attendees: “We had 45 cars come to visit us tonight. A ‘ticket’ was left for each of you on your windshield. It is really like a report card indicting what we saw in your car, had we been a potential thief. This is what was seen in your cars tonight: 12 wallets, 15 cell phones or cell phone accessory cords, 2 laptop/GPS units, 1 MP3 player/radar detector, 3 CDs, 1 satellite/stereo faceplates, 4 money/tools/pagers and 12 cars had nothing visible. Yea to those twelve! So even though you are in a relatively safe place, take it as a learning experience. The next time you go to your car, it might be a broken window and your stuff is missing. GPS mounts and cell phone accessories and cords shows to me that there is the possibility of something more valuable in the car, so be sure to remove those out of sight before you leave your car in a parking lot, and always lock your car, even in your driveway,” said Haggerty.
The next commander’s forum is July 17 at the Clinton Hunter Police Substation, 404 Ralph Ablenado Drive, near South First and Slaughter Lane. “For a time we were holding the meetings in difference locations, but we found that we were getting a lower attendance when we were moving around, so now all meetings are being held here,” said Jobes. “We want you to contact us for anything going on in your area. That is why we are here,” he added.
District Representatives Officer Joshua Visi is the District Representative for southwest Austin, including the Circle C area. Officer Richard Paez also covers parts of Oak Hill, and Officer Ristow is the representative for South Austin, closer to the Slaughter/Brodie area. The main number to call is: 974-8100 and your call will be directed to the right officer. To receive alerts or to keep up with ongoing police initiatives, register for the Citizen Observer Alerts at http://www.citizenobserver.com/cov6/app/group.html?id=4117.
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