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APD officers honored for swift water rescue

November 6, 2014  

Officers Ricardo Medrano and Traver Stefan received Commander’s Recognition Coins from Commander Nick Wright for their part in assisting with a high-water rescue involving a non-APD officer.

story and photo by Joanne Foote

AUSTIN –  Congratulations were in order at the recent Austin Police Department Commander’s Forum.

“APD Officer Traver Stefan and Officer Ricardo Medrano helped save another officer during heavy rains on September 18, the same day we sadly lost Deputy Hollis. Every day our officers are out there and put their lives on the line. Through tragedy we grow,” said Commander Nick Wright, of APD Region 4, which includes Oak Hill.

“Our officers had the tools they needed to help in this emergency and I want to commend the Austin Police Department for giving our officers extra training and tools to be prepared for as much as possible, and in this situation, the incident called upon the officers’ added skills for dealing with swift water,” said Wright.

The incident Wright referred to occurred in the Rollingwood area, near Westlake. APD Officer Chris Hallas described the incident: “Officer Josh Odom went to assist a stranded motorist who found themselves trapped in rising waters from heavy rainstorms in the area of Eanes Creek.

“Eventually, the motorist was able to make it out, but Officer Odom had a more difficult time. While attempting to help the motorist, Officer Odom got swept away and the only thing sticking out of the water was his head. Several other agencies were there, but they did not have the needed equipment to assist the officer. However, Officer Stefan and Officer Medrano had throw ropes in their vehicle and were able to reach the officer and pull him to safety. Their swift action saved a life of a fellow officer.

“The officers have been nominated for a life-saving award, which takes time to process. However, as a Commander, we have designed a Commander’s Coin, which is similar to something that is given in the military. The coin is issued at a Commander’s discretion, as a way to honor the officers and for them to know how much we appreciate their efforts in this situation,” stated Commander Wright.

Every seat was full at the forum, which was held on Thursday, October 23, at the Clinton Hunter police sub-station. Hot dogs and hamburgers, grilled outside, were served to all in attendance. “I see a lot of familiar faces, which is great, but I would ask you to invite a neighbor or a friend next time to bring some new faces into our meetings. You are our eyes and ears, helping our community be as safe as possible,” said Wright.

Wright presented the latest crime statistics. “Things are looking good in Region Four. When we get good leads from the public, it helps those crime numbers stay low,” said Wright. “However, we can do better on the stats involving property crime. You control property crime. Criminals are looking for the easiest target. The numbers for the year seem high: 860 burglaries citywide for 2014. Often times, it is a garage left open, a door unlocked. If you don’t protect yourself, all we can do is come clean it up for you.

“Auto thefts for the year are at 37%. When we break that number down further, in 67% of those auto thefts, a key was used to steal the vehicle. Which tells me the thief was given the opportunity because a key was left in the car. That is preventable. Don’t hide the key in the car—take the key with you, lock the car, and if you must leave items in the car, hide them.

“Citywide, year to date, statistics show 2,160 Burglary of Vehicles (BOV’s), which includes things like purses, briefcases, cell phones, backpacks, anything visible. That’s shopping to a thief. If your purse is on your front seat, as a thief, I am going for the easy target. Take a look in your friends’ cars this Halloween and see what’s in it that’s visible, and then tell your friends. These numbers can easily be knocked down by you protecting your belongings,” emphasized Wright. “We are doing outstanding compared to years past, but we can do better and you can help us by protecting your property.”

Oak Hill District Representative Jeffery Binder stressed the importance of locking your vehicles: “In the Circle C area, in August, we had 25 BOV’s reported, and every one of those was because the car was unlocked or left with keys in them,” he explained.

“An added problem is when a car is left unlocked and there is a garage door opener in the car—you have just given the thief access to your house. We cannot say this often enough—lock your cars, no matter where they are parked, in your driveway, or anywhere else. Leaving your car unlocked gives an opportunity to a thief and then you become a victim. This is a simple solution that will have a big impact on the community,” said Binder.

Each quarter, special presentations are made highlighting a part of the police department. Commander Gage with the Special Operations Department, and former Commander of Region 4, explained what divisions are under Special Ops. “My department incorporates the Bomb Squad, Canine Unit, Dive Team and the SWAT team. This department utilizes a lot of tax dollars, whether from the City of Austin or Federal Grants, but ultimately it’s all tax dollars, so we want to use these resources wisely to best serve our citizens.”

The SWAT Team is made up of three squads, with access to four armored vehicles. “We do not have tanks, despite what you may hear in the media,” joked Gage. “They are used as rescue vehicles, which we may need to rescue a citizen in serious danger, or protect both citizens and also officers. SWAT’s primary mission includes hostage situations or someone armed and barricaded in a building. We also work with government agencies through the Military Surplus Equipment Program, but primarily we receive protective and safety equipment such as: navigation devices, night vision, and a helicopter.

“Our Bomb Squad serves a 10-county area. We receive some funding from the FBI, and ATF, to serve the smaller communities who can’t afford to have their own specialized units. We have four bomb robots, and four bomb-trained dogs. Also the bomb squad has a dive team, and they assisted in locating Officer Jessica Hollis when she was missing in the September flood waters,” said Gage.

Other equipment this unit has access to include: three helicopters, used primarily for air surveillance when seeking a potential suspect on the ground, or helping find missing persons, including the elderly. Helicopters have also helped with water drops during wildfires, and also high water rescues.

Commander Spangler, from the Violent Crimes unit, explained how his department works. “We are really split into two sections: patrol and the other side is support, which includes violent crimes, homicides and missing persons. Each number is very special to me, because those are actual people and relationships that are no longer with us. To date, this year, we have had 16 homicides, which is down about 20%. Of those 16, there are four that we don’t have a suspect. My detectives do an outstanding job, but many of the most important leads we receive come from citizens. When you see something, it can be reported anonymously through Crimestoppers. We do an outstanding job of solving our cases, between 80-90%.

“The second unit that I have is the Robbery unit, which includes bank and stores. The definition of a robbery is anytime someone uses force or a weapon to maintain control of the property. Robberies overall for the city are both up and down. People that rob banks are usually serial robbers and we have an extremely high success rate of catching those people and clearing those cases. Currently many of those individuals are doing time, but once they get out, they often go back to their old trade. Business robberies are down, which we think is due to technology, and video cameras. Most cameras are pointed at the door now and when we get that picture out to the public, we have thousands of eyes helping us. Unfortunately, robbery of individuals is up between 20-30%, because it is now increasingly more difficult to rob businesses, it is easier to target an individual.”

Other areas Spangler oversees includes the Missing Persons Unit, responsible for Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts, (which are for the elderly), where over 1600 calls per year are received.

Sergeant Chris Hallas shared what District Representatives (DR) have been up to over the last few months. “DR’s are able to help with more long-term problems, including transient problems, and quality of life issues in your neighborhood. We also have the opportunity to reach out and work with different groups in the community. When we work with young kids, then they have a more positive experience with the police and they know they can trust us to help them,” said Hallas. Initiatives this last quarter include:

• DR’s visited 31 block parties during National Night Out on October 7.

• 90 students at Kocurek Elementary are participating in the GREAT Program (Gang Resistance Education & Training), which is a six-week program to prevent gangs.

• Working with TxDOT to clean up area transient areas, under bridges at major intersections, including trash removal, issue citations and make arrests when warranted.

• ACL Music Fest PACE team: Public Assembly Code Enforcement includes fire department and code enforcement to make sure everything stays safe.

• SALT: Seniors and Law Enforcement Together. A recent initiative included “Why are seniors targets of Financial Crime, how to protect themselves and not become victims.”

• Run With The Hero’s, Sept. 14, Honor fallen comrades and raised money for Special Olympics.


Upcoming Events for Region 4:

• HEB Feast on November 25 at Palmer Events Center, from 4-8 p.m.

• Black Friday shopping. Officers will patrol area malls to help prevent vehicle theft/burglary.

• December donations will be accepted for Blue Santa and volunteers are needed to deliver food and gifts.

• Home for the Holidays Initiative: APD will be out patrolling and writing tickets as needed, with the purpose to get people to follow the rules of the road so that they arrive home safely.

The next Commander’s Forum is January 22, 2015 at 6:30 p.m., 404 Ralph Ablanedo Drive. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend and invite a neighbor. To learn more about current crime in your area, reports are available at this link: To learn more about what district representative (DR) covers neighborhoods in South Austin and the Oak Hill area, 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.



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