Most-wanted criminals list increases arrests

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A list of most-wanted individuals released by the Austin Police Department leads to the arrest of about one out of every four criminals each week, an APD sergeant said. Austin’s Top Offenders list helps APD catch more criminals by getting the public involved and allowing the individuals to be more readily spotted on the street. The list — which is available online at the APD website and at www.citizenobserver.com — displays photos of about 20 wanted criminals in the Austin area, a brief description of their offenses and bond amounts. “The main reason why [APD Chief Art Acevedo] asked us to make this list is because we have a lot of units with different top offenders, and we wanted to have a better method to go about finding them,” APD Sgt. Pat Connor said. “We needed one standardized list for all units that encompassed all the top offenders.” Criminals from each of about eight departments make up the list, which APD updates and releases every Wednesday. It includes criminals with arrest warrants that are Class B misdemeanors — crimes including criminal trespassing, unlawful restraint and indecent exposure — or higher, he said. Class C misdemeanors — assault without bodily injury for example, are not taken into consideration, he said. “We’ve had about a 25-percent success rate so far,” Connor said. “We want the public to get involved. Hopefully people will actually see and take note of who these wanted individuals are and take an active interest in finding them.” On average, about 5 or 6 people from the list are arrested each week because of citizens calling in to offer tips, he said. New individuals replace the ones taken into custody, but the ones still at large are not removed from the list until they’ve been arrested, Connor said. Candidates for the list are ranked by a point system, using an automated program operated by APD. The number of points an individual earns is based on their criminal history, and they must currently have an APD-issued warrant out for their arrest. The number of points given for each offense varies, but for example, warrants for murder have a higher point value than warrants for theft, APD Lt. Jerry Gonzalez said. “We took the human element out of it,” Gonzalez said. “These are the people we want to apprehend and put in jail. The more points you get, the higher you go up on the list.” APD is brainstorming ways to get the public more involved, including keeping record of how many people view the online list and getting the Public Information Office involved, he said. “The lists will begin to get even more successful when they become more engaged with the public,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an effort combined with all our patrol, the court system and the public. Hopefully, with their help, we’ll get these wanted individuals located more quickly.” Nationally, most-wanted lists are often effective because they facilitate inter-agency cooperation, UT criminology professor Mark Warr said. “It may work the same way for Austin because there are many federal as well as local law enforcement agents who work here, and the public always seems willing to help if they know who to look for,” Warr said.