Reginald Williams, (right) , was one of several family members who witnessed the hit and run accident on June 18, which involved an off-duty firefighter. The family pursued the driver responsible and maintained contact with him until police arrived. Their efforts resulted in an arrest of the driver who hit the cyclist. They all received special acknowledgment from both police and firefighters. Photo by Joanne Foote
By Joanne Foote
AUSTIN – “Citizen involvement is key to what we do,” said Commander Todd Gage. “Anything we can do to help you live in safe communities is what we want to do, we are all partners.” It looks like the word is spreading. Every chair was full at the South Austin Quarterly Police Commander’s Forum, which was held on Tuesday, July 23, at the Clinton Hunter police sub-station.
“I’ve been stationed here since January. I started in this area 20 years ago and am glad to be back,” said Commander Todd Gage, who began the meeting with Citizen Recognition and Appreciation. Several citizens were acknowledged for things ranging from calling and reporting an active house burglary, to helping track down the driver responsible for a hit and run accident.
“The accident on June 18 involved off-duty Firefighter Colin Camp, who was riding his bicycle in the bike lane on Manchaca Road, just south of Slaughter Lane, and was run over by someone driving a truck in the bike lane. The driver fled, but these five people followed him and stayed with the driver until officers arrived and could apprehend the driver. They didn’t blow off the situation,” said Gage. “Reginald Williams and other family members who witnessed the hit and run accident pursued the driver responsible and maintained contact with him until police arrived.”
An area fire chief was on hand and added, “This was a tragic accident all the way around and unfortunately our firefighter is still in grave condition, but the fact that the individual responsible for the accident was apprehended because of your actions. It is certainly appreciated by the family as well as the Austin Fire Department.”
“There are a few things I want to discuss before we break into smaller groups. Right now the Austin City Council is going through the Budget Process for 2013-2014,” said Gage. “APD has submitted a budget proposal asking for an additional 92 officers. Last year, the city Council commissioned a report to look at our staffing and the report indicated that we are very low on the number of officers we need for a city this size. The PERF report (Police Executive Research Forum) indicated a need to add 257 officers by 2017. The request of 92 officers this year is our first phase of achieving that number. However, for some perspective, to meet the national average for a city our size, we would need to add 700 officers by 2017.”
An excerpt taken from the summary of the report, explained the purpose, “The objectives of the study include: reviewing the current demand for sworn law enforcement, including calls for service, investigative workload, staffing for special events, and utilization of support staff; examining benchmarks for police staffing that are used in a sample of U.S. cities with populations from 500,000 to one million.” The full report can be found on the APD website.
“About 45 of the new officers will be tasked to Special Events. Right now, you may lose your District Representative (DR) for a week or more for each of the special events held around Austin. It hurts the citizens because we have less officers able to patrol in neighborhoods,” explained Gage.
“Right now the multitude of special events in Austin during the year put an added stress on the department. Events, such as Circuit of the Americas, Austin City Limits Festival, and South by Southwest, all require officers to be pulled from different areas of town to provide security,” Gage said.
A citizen at the meeting asked about security funding at these events, “Why are taxpayers subsidizing security for these special events, which turn a profit for the organization who is putting them on? Shouldn’t those groups foot the bill on the needed added security?”
“In all likelihood, some of those fees are probably being waived by the city council as an incentive for those events to come to town. If that is something you disagree with, then you should contact your city council member,” said Gage.
If approved in the proposed budget, additional officers would be tasked to the traffic unit. “Traffic fatalities are at an all-time high in Austin,” said Gage, adding, “Last year Austin had 82 traffic fatalities and we are on track to meet or exceed that number this year. Over the weekend, we had five traffic fatalities. By adding more officers on traffic duty, especially at night, we hope will help keep that number from going higher.”
“Improving officer presence, uncommitted time and response time are three things that are very important for us and the community. Officer presence is the biggest deterrent to crime. In addition, what we refer to as ‘uncommitted time,’ which is the time an officer has to patrol uninterrupted, amounts to only 15% of his time in a day. The other 85% of the time he is answering calls. The national average of ‘uncommitted time’ is 30%. In addition, although our response time for priority calls is decent, averaging six minutes, what is not tracked is the time it takes us to respond to non-priority calls. Non-priority calls include things like homes that have been burglarized, but you don’t know it until five hours later. Coming home from work and finding your home broken into is one of the worst feelings and is a terrible thing to happen to an individual, but unfortunately it is not considered high priority since the trail is already cold,” Gage said.
The quarterly crime statistics for south Austin were released: violent crime is down by 11% and year-to-date down by 4%. Property crime is down 7% for the quarter and 5% down for the year. “I think much of that is due to you, our citizens, who are looking out for their neighbors. You are our eyes and ears. Criminals don’t want to be seen and when neighborhoods have Neighborhood Watch programs, it really helps reduce overall crime. Those areas have had a tremendous decrease in crime” said Gage. “We are on a three-year trend of lower crime and overall at a five-year low because of the combined effort with APD and our citizens,” he added.
“Preventing crime is the responsibility of the entire community and works best when citizens and police work together. I fully believe that is the reason we have been able to keep crime so low is because of you, people getting involved.”
Sergeant Jamie Jobes also discussed the importance of reporting teens that may be breaking curfew, especially once school begins on August 26. “In the summer, there is no daytime curfew for those under age 17. However, there is a nighttime curfew, which is as follows: Sunday-Thursday, 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. and Friday-Saturday 12:00 a.m.-6:00 a.m.”
Jobes added: “During the school year, the daytime curfew is 9:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. School-aged kids are typically supposed to be in school, although there may be some exceptions. If you see kids on the street or in neighborhoods during those hours and you suspect they are of school age, please call 911. Juveniles are often responsible for much of the burglary-type crime that happens during those hours. I know, we all say ‘Not my kid, they wouldn’t do that.’ But it’s better to be on the safe side and notify the police.”
On the other side of the spectrum are a group of teens who are learning more the inner workings of becoming a police officer and what the job really encompasses. “Tonight, we have some special guests here. Along the far wall, are the leaders of tomorrow, they are the Police Explorers. These high school students are here on their own time and are interested in learning more about becoming a Police Officer. They learn what police officers do and receive in-depth training,” said Jobes. Austin Fire Department and EMS also have explorer programs.
Among the group is Bowie high school student Cody Martin, who joined the Explorers eight months ago. “I wanted to be a police officer, so I contacted one and he referred me to this program,” said Martin, who will be a senior this fall. “The program is open to students from ages 14 up to 21. At 21 is when we are eligible to apply to become a police officer. We meet every Tuesday and they teach us things like how to respond to a domestic crisis, and weekend events to learn about traffic and crowd control. We just returned from a competition with timed events where we earned two second place awards. One, called Active shooter, was for which team could go in a building, clear it and find the offender. We also attend Explorer Academy, which is three weeks long, meets 8 hours a day and is very disciplined. We learn things like case law. We have ranks, but to earn that, we have to take a test and my test is coming up,” explained Martin.
“No one else in my family is a police officer. I like it because I wouldn’t be at a desk everyday and everyday is something different. My parents are happy that I have found something that I am passionate about. I am also in ROTC in school, which I have been in since ninth grade, but I am most interested in this program because it provides hands-on experience to what being a police officer is really like, which is my goal,’ Martin said.
Although it is still a few months away, it’s not too soon for neighborhood groups to register for National Night Out, which is October 1. A description of the event from the APD website: “Residents in neighborhoods throughout Austin and across the nation are asked to turn on their porch lights, lock their doors and spend the evening outside with their neighbors, police officers, firefighters and EMS paramedics. Events such as cookouts, block parties and neighborhood walks will all occur simultaneously throughout the city and nationwide.”
This year, the event will kickoff at Barton Creek Mall, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. “We will have all areas of APD, AFD, EMS and also Travis County represented. The kickoff is a big deal and this is the first time it will be held in South Austin in a few years,” said Jobes. If you would like to register your neighborhood or group, please go the APD website. Registration does not guarantee that an officer will drop by, but it will put you on the list for a possible visit as well as let the department know how successful National Night out is. For registration information go to this website: http://austintexas.gov/nno.
Each quarter, APD holds Commander Forum meetings in the different sectors of Austin, to which anyone is invited to attend. The next meeting will be October 15, 2013 at the same location, at 404 Ralph Ablanedo Drive. To learn more about current crime in your area, reports are available at this link: http://austintexas.gov/department/apd-reports. To learn more about what district representative (DR) covers neighborhoods in South Austin and the Oak Hill area, http://austintexas.gov/page/district-representatives-region-4. The main number is 512-874-8100. The District Representatives for most of the Oak Hill area are Senior Police Officer Jeffrey Binder and Officer Josh Visi.
Ongoing training is available at the substation and occurs each month. “Our Train the Trainer meeting is the First Tuesday of each month here at the station at 6:30 p.m. It starts with the old-school mentality of neighbors looking out for each other, but then we dig deeper and discuss things like when to call 911 versus 311, as well as what might be considered suspicious activity. I can’t stress this enough. It is because of good folks coming forward and taking control of their neighborhoods—that helps reduce crime,” said Jobes.
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