Austin Police Department

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

People can now purchase crash reports online without going to the police station, using Austin Police Department’s new online portal.

“This online tool makes purchasing crash reports more convenient for citizens and decreases report request processing times, thereby making it easier and faster for citizens to file insurance claims and get vehicle repairs underway,” Police Chief Brian Manley said in a statement. “This will also free up time and resources that we can use to further our community policing efforts.”

Brandon Gilstrap, APD’s central records manager, said the tool allows individuals to receive reports from the comfort of their home five to 10 minutes after making a request.

“All you have to do is click on the link on the APD website, fill out the form and pay for the copy of the report,” Gilstrap said. “You can print, email or save it digitally instead of just getting a single hard copy. This is all for the convenience of the consumers.”

Individuals previously had to mail in open request forms and wait while officers manually copied and sent reports back, Gilstrap said.

“Sometimes people would come down to the station and wait for hours for crash reports, which was exhausting,” Gilstrap said. “Nobody wants to wait that long for something that could be within their grasp in less than five minutes.”

APD can also pinpoint crash data analytics using the new portal.

“We have been using the old method for as long as I can remember, but so far this new portal has benefited the community and us,” Gilstrap said. “We can easily see where most crashes occur and in what months crashes are more common. This will help us keep roads safer in the future.”

APD teamed up with LexisNexis Coplogic Solutions in order to make this new portal, Gilstrap said.

“We have partnered with them before to set up a portal for police officers to submit reports online and thought they’d be good to work with for this project,” Gilstrap said. “After talking to several police departments that use tools like this one, we knew we had to give it a try.”

Radio-television-film freshman Rebecca Dong said it has probably taken so long for APD to adopt a digital system to request reports because most police stations are just catching up to the ways that younger generations use the internet.

“It’s just easier to go on your phone and pay bills, shop and request reports,” Dong said. “It also makes the police much more accountable, because they need to have the reports and sources right away.”

Gilstrap said since they released the new portal, about 40 to 45 people have filed requests per day.

“This is a lot higher than it’s been before, and we expect it to increase still,” Gilstrap said.

According to the APD website, the only types of reports that can be requested through this portal include crashes that are not being investigated by officers, when the crash’s damage expenses do not amount to more than $1,000 and when the crash did not result in injury
or death.

Photo Credit: Miles Hutson | Daily Texan Staff

The first of its kind of the Austin area, The Daily Texan's interactive crime map allows users to browse the various crimes the Austin Police Department has reported, separated by location and type of offense. 

The map is updated nightly with the most recent, complete data from APD.

To view the map, click here.

Car burglaries in West Campus have been on the rise for the past two months, according to Austin Police Department officials. 

Between March 22 and the end of April, 47 car burglaries took place. A Campus Watch email, which UTPD sent out, notified students of the increased activity.

Although West Campus is distinct from the University, officers from the APD said they wanted students to be aware of the trend. When APD officer William Harvey notified UTPD, APD officers said a lot of the break-ins occurred because students left their cars unlocked, which increased accessibility for thieves.  

“Vehicle burglaries are typically crimes of opportunity, so to speak,” Harvey said. “If somebody walks by your car and there’s nothing in it, [the chances] of somebody wanting to break into it is pretty low.”

Officers also said students had left their belongings in their cars clearly visible to anyone walking past, UTPD Sgt. Layne Brewster said. 

Although Harvey said car burglaries are common in West Campus, he said the thieves did not take high-value items. 

“Actually this was kind of weird — there was a lot of paperwork taken in 17 of the 47 cases,” Harvey said. “There was some sort of paper work — anything from vehicle registration paperwork — and there were even some owner’s manuals taken. I’ve never heard of owner’s manuals being taken from vehicles, so that was strange.” 

When it comes to preventing thefts such as this from happening, Brewster said the solution is pretty straightforward. 

“The number one thing is to take everything out of your car — that way there is nothing for anyone to steal,” Brewster said. “The other option is to hide it, but, if you hide it, you still run the risk of someone breaking into the car.” 

While covering items up with other things or hiding them is common, Brewster said the police do not recommend it because it often will not deter a thief from trying to get into a car. 

“If the car is locked, they break a window, and then not only are you going to lose out on the items that they steal, but you’re also going to have to repair that window,” Brewster said. 

Fifteen of the 47 burglaries involved cars with their windows broken, Harvey said.

As part of an effort to help raise awareness about the issue, APD officers went around to different garages and left notes on people’s cars telling them what, if anything, inside their car would make it more likely for an individual to break in.

Although her car was not broken into, linguistics and mathematics senior Madison Lasris said she was not happy when she saw the note. 

“[I thought] that it made it really easy for thieves [because] they didn’t even have to look in cars since the police did that for them,” Lasris said. 

Officers usually find laptops or other high value items, but Harvey said he has seen thieves break into cars for as little as change in cup holders.

“Basically, it’s just a reminder for people that if we can see what’s in your car, think about who else can walk up and see what’s in your car,” Harvey said. 

Some APD officers, such as APD senior police officer Marcos Johnson, have purchased their own body cameras to ensure more transparency in their work.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Over the next two to five years, the Austin Police Department will implement plans to equip its officers with body cameras — and in the meantime, 25 APD officers have purchased cameras on their own.

Several officers said they decided to buy cameras on their own initiative to be more transparent in their work, and because many of them had dealt with false accusations of misconduct.

After experiencing a few incidents where citizens threatened to make allegations of misconduct against him, APD officer Marcos Johnson decided to get his own body camera approximately a year ago.

“This was during the time when they knew our patrol car [camera] wasn’t facing our direction, so, after having to deal with someone who was potentially going to make false allegations against me, … I was concerned that there’s always a potential for more of those,” Johnson said.

Since purchasing his body camera, Johnson said he and his fellow officers have faced more accusations, but in all cases been exonerated based on footage captured by the body camera.

Officers initially tested out the cameras a year ago, hoping to implement them department-wide, but found the technology did not perform as well as they would have liked, according to assistant police chief Jason Dusterhoff.

The department is currently looking at 17 different vendors for the cameras, which Dusterhoff said he hopes will ultimately improve both police and civilian behavior.

“We also think we’re going to have expedited resolution of complaints and lawsuits,” Dusterhoff said. “When you’re able to have video or audio of something, it’s not this person’s word against another’s — it’s very concrete.”

Questions of police misconduct have been thrust into the national spotlight over the course of the last year with a number of high-profile cases involving police officers apprehending and, at times, injuring African American men. Last August, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, in St. Louis, Missouri. Though Wilson was not indicted, Brown’s death sparked nationwide protests. In November, officers in Cleveland, Ohio, killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a public park. Earlier this month, a white police officer, Michael Slager, shot and killed Walter Scott as Scott tried to run away, in an incident captured on film by a bystander. This week, nationwide protests have focused on Freddie Gray, who died of spinal cord injuries while in police custody two weeks ago in Baltimore, Maryland. 

“If a situation like that were to occur, I assume that having the body cameras … then all the officers on the scene would have different angles and points of view, and then they could get down to what happened and why this person lost his life and what led up to the incident,” Johnson said. “With incidents like that, body cameras are going to come into play and definitely going to help with a better understanding of what took place.”

UTPD Chief David Carter said he considers the idea of body cameras a “no-brainer,” but said many police departments are still trying to solve issues related to data storage and funding.

“The camera is relatively inexpensive, and that’s not an issue in terms of cost,” Carter said. “The technical back-end issues and solutions and how to retrieve the data and how to make sure it’s secure [are] fairly expensive.”

Pedestrians cross Guadalupe Street on Monday afternoon. The number of pedestrian deaths in Austin has risen in 2015.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

The number of pedestrian deaths in Austin has increased compared to this time last year, with nine deaths occurring since January.

In 2014, there were 15 pedestrian deaths total. The Austin Police Department has not identified a pattern in the locations of these deaths, according to APD officer Hank Aguilar. 

“Once they put all the information together and they see a pattern, … that’s when they start the initiatives and try to bring more of the public’s attention to that issue,” Aguilar said. 

With no initiatives ongoing around campus, Aguilar said officers are focusing on the department’s “Don’t Block the Box” project in downtown intersections. The initiative aims to keep cars from idling in the middle of intersections, which can block oncoming traffic from cars and pedestrians.  

This situation is not limited to downtown intersections — it often occurs at intersections along Guadalupe Street, where students cross their way to class and West Campus. Art history junior Marisa Hunt said she has seen many people almost get hit by cars. 

“It’s pretty scary because you think you’re safe to walk, and then there’s a car coming at you,” Hunt said. “You’ll be crossing the street, and cars are trying to turn at the same time, and a lot of cars will aim at you to try to make you move faster.” 

Additionally, Aguilar said walking on highways puts pedestrians at risk. Three of the nine deaths this year have occurred on highways. 

“It’s always been a problem,” Aguilar said, “Especially people using it on the northern side of the city as a way to get from one side of the freeway to the other without having to go all the way around or down to the town roads, and unfortunately people get hit.” 

In Texas, it’s against the law to cross highways by foot, and Aguilar said the department always works on strictly enforcing the law. 

“They’re not meant for pedestrian traffic — there’s no reason for a pedestrian to do it unless someone needs help, or you’re trying to get off a freeway if your car breaks down,” Aguilar said.

While Aguilar said officers have found pedestrians are often walking negligently when they are hit and that drivers aren’t at fault, civil engineering senior Christine Wait said she feels drivers in traffic should be more aware of pedestrians.

“I don’t feel like it’s dangerous to cross the light if you’re smart about it, but I feel like most of the time traffic is pretty good about when they’re slowing down and stopping,” Wait said.

In order to ensure their safety, Aguilar said people need to avoid distractions. 

“The most important thing is to be alert, and pay attention,” Aguilar said. “A lot of times people are distracted — they either have their headphones in, so they can’t hear, they’re texting or on the phone and not paying attention to the area around them, crossing midblock when they shouldn’t be, not looking both ways when they cross the street. Things like that are common errors that contribute to vehicle-pedestrian collisions.”

Photo Credit: Andrew Brooks | Daily Texan Staff

Officers from the Austin Police Department said they will no longer check to see if drone operators have a certificate for themselves or for their drone, unless the drone is flying near a crowded area. 

The change is part of an attempt to shift focus to policing drones used near large events, such as concerts and sports games, while giving individuals flying drones in less crowded areas freedom, APD officers said.

Although policing drone usage hasn’t been much of an issue for APD, chief of staff Brian Manley said the department wanted to make the policies more friendly for those who may want to fly drones in their yard.

“We’re always focused on the safety and well being for the community, and we realized that the ordinance is quite restrictive in that it bans all use in all places in all circumstances — unless the individual had the licenses and qualifications,” Manley said. “Individuals flying these in their own yards … [don’t] really present the same issues.”

Drones’ potential to cause disturbances became evident when APD heard concerns about the drones’ presence during the South By Southwest festival this March, Manley said. In another incident, a drone flew over the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium during the Longhorns’ first football game of the season.

“I honestly thought that someone did it to get a bird’s-eye-view picture of the stadium during the game,” electrical engineering senior Mary Ryan Gilmore said. “I’m not sure what it was really for.”

While the event at the football game did involve a high profile drone sighting, aerospace engineering assistant professor Todd Humphreys said ahe believes recreational use of drones has not been a problem in Austin.

Often, people have concerns about footage captured by drones of people without their knowledge, Humphreys said.

“If you happen to get somebody’s house in those pictures or video, and you happen to catch somebody walking in their yard, you should destroy that video instead of uploading it to YouTube,” Humphreys said.

Regardless of where drones are being used, Manley said people operating them should always be cautious of others.

“Individuals need to be careful and cautious and need to maintain a visual at all times when they’re flying these devices, so they don’t accidently bring them into an area that may place others in danger,” Manley said.

Under new rules that the Federal Aviation Association is considering implementing, drone operators would be required to take a test to become certified to fly, which Humphreys said he thinks is reasonable.

“If you want to become a hand radio operator, you have to take a test and become government certified before you can broadcast in the space that has been allocated for amateur use,” Humphrey said. “I think it’s a perfectly reasonable parallel to say that if you’re going to be operating a drone, you need to have passed a test and gotten the certificate.”

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Police Department has issued more than 800 citations related to the newly implemented “Don’t Block the Box” campaign, which started April 6.

The campaign, targeted at downtown Austin, aims to reduce traffic bottling — when cars stopped in the middle of an intersection block the rest of traffic flow, according to City Council member Ann Kitchen. 

Over the two-week period from April 6 to Friday, APD issued 653 moving violations and 153 non-moving violations as well as 90 warning citations.

“It is still on the evaluation stage, but there are reports, at least from the police department, that they are seeing some improvements from it in seeing people changing their behavior,” Kitchen, who is head of the city’s Mobility Committee, said. “[Drivers are] learning how to make sure they don’t end up in the middle of the intersection.” 

Mayor Steve Adler said he’s been watching the Don’t Block the Box campaign implementation from his office.

“I’ve been watching people get tickets from City Hall,” Adler said. 

Adler said “Don’t Block the Box” is only one tool in the City’s belt to combat Austin’s growing traffic congestion problem. City Manager Marc Ott released the Transportation Congestion Action Plan on March 27, an outline of solutions to traffic including short- and long-term fixes. 

“We’re limiting left turns in traffic, coordinating construction activity. We’re going to be synchronizing lights … in real time, [so] it will shift with the traffic,” Adler said. “Don’t Block the Box was one of 20 different initiatives we are trying.”

Kitchen said she thinks immediate solutions are critical to solving the City’s traffic problems.

“We grow so fast … that we dump a lot of additional traffic on existing roads and [are] not fast enough [at] adjusting to how those roads can handle the traffic,” Kitchen said. “With these kinds of actions, you get more bang for your buck because you can do them faster and less costly. They are infrastructure things we need to do right away.”

DJ Roberts, a radio-television-film and history sophomore, said he tends to disregard traffic infractions such as blocking intersections when he is in a hurry.

“I think solutions dealing with infrastructure would be far more effective than those shifting the mentality of Austin drivers,” Roberts said. “While getting people to stay out of ‘the box’ might help on a smaller scale, Austin’s traffic problem is the result of an infrastructure not built for the City’s growing problem.”

Mobility affects many other issues, such as cost of living, so Kitchen said short-term solutions are not enough to fix Austin’s traffic problem. 

“It is a huge issue all over the city and also a linchpin issue,” Kitchen said. “If we can’t get around — because of transportation, and we’re stuck in traffic — then we can’t get to jobs and school and it impacts where we can live. It’s a linchpin issue that way. It affects a lot of other things.”

The Austin Center for Events (ACE), Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will be teaming up this year to add extra safety precautions to the festival because of the growing number of South By Southwest attendees. As one of the new precautions, the ACE has reduced the number of temporary event permits.
Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Tens of thousands of people will flood the streets of Austin next week for South By Southwest. As more people make Austin their spring break destination, the City is taking new safety precautions.

The Austin Center for Events (ACE) — the office that issues temporary event permits — the Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are collaborating to make SXSW a safer festival. 

Bill Manno, ACE corporate special events program manager, said ACE reduced the number of issued permits for public events from 168 to 147 between 2014–2015. Manno said ACE plans to reduce the number of permits to 125 for future SXSW conventions.  

“After last year’s South By, we had some public meetings and online surveys,” Manno said. “There was a lot of discussion about how it’s just
too overprogrammed.”

Event coordinators must acquire certain types of permits before using spaces in the city not typically used for public events, such as parking lots. This year, Manno said ACE paid more attention to the cumulative impact of events already taking place in a requested area.  

“There have been some [events] that have been denied just because they want to do it on the same date and same location as many others,”
Manno said. 

Event coordinators who do acquire permission to host temporary outdoor music events will face earlier cutoff times. 

In the past, these events could continue until 2 a.m. To abate neighboorhood complaints, temporary outdoor music events will end earlier than others to prevent overcrowded streets. Temporary outdoor music events end at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 p.m. Thursday and 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 

ACE worked with Austin Energy this year to improve the safety of the events downtown by adding brighter LED bulbs to streetlights on
Sixth Street. 

“We’re hoping we can illuminate some of the traditionally dark areas,” Manno said. “Sixth Street has some really nice shade trees, but they also block out light and cause some dark spots, which sometimes the criminal element will take advantage of.”

The APD will have 10–12 percent more officers at SXSW, said Tim Pruett, commander over special events for APD.

“[Attendees will] definitely see additional officers downtown,” Pruett said. “The more public safety people you see downtown, the safer
you feel.”

TABC — the state agency that issues and enforces alcoholic beverage permits — will also bring in extra staff this year, TABC Capt. Harry Nanos said. Nanos said some of the extra staff will be undercover, looking for violations such as underage drinking, venues selling to minors
and overconsumption. 

Nanos said changes are partly in response to last year’s drunken driving incident on Red River Street, which resulted in four deaths and injuries to more than 20 others.

“Whenever you have an incident like last year, it makes you look at what you can do to make things safer,” Nanos said. “What is it that we can do to ensure that the safety of the public is met?”

SXSW publicist Elizabeth Derczo said in an email that the City’s changes this year will allow festival-goers to have a more enjoyable experience.

“Safety is, and always has been, a top priority for SXSW,” Derczo said. “We do everything we can to support their efforts.”

This year’s efforts are just the beginning, Manno said. As SXSW becomes an increasingly popular destination, the City will be forced to adapt.

“It’s not just a one-time fix,” Manno said. “It’s a continual fix. We have to continue to look at how to make the event more fun, safer and
more inviting.”

Gene Vela, a former public affairs graduate student, listens to testimonies during his trial at the Travis County Courthouse on Friday morning. Vela is facing two charges of aggravated assault on a public servant.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Gene Vela walked out of the Travis County Courthouse a free man Wendesday after being found not guilty on all charges.

The trial occurred more than a year after the standoff between Vela, a former public affairs graduate student, and Austin Police Department officers outside Vela’s apartment. 

Vela faced charges for aggravated assault against a public servant, making a terroristic threat and unlawful carrying of a weapon. The jury reached a verdict of not guilty after four hours of deliberation.

After hearing that her son had been found not guilty of all charges, Karen Emerson, Vela’s mother, said she is happy the nightmare is over. She said the past year has been hard on her and the rest of Vela’s family. 

“Just even from the beginning, just finding out my son was shot and just having to wait all this time while he’s been in jail,” Emerson said. “It’s not easy for him, and it’s not easy for the family for him to lose a year out of his life. I’m very, very grateful that he can resume his life.”

At press time, Emerson was waiting for Vela to be processed and released before she could reunite with him.

“I’m just grateful that he’s out,” Emerson said. “I’m grateful for the jurors and that they took into account all of the situation involved, and they were very considerate and took a lot of consideration in making this decision, and I’m grateful for that.”

When the trial began Feb. 24, Vela’s attorney Skip Davis argued Vela did not know the police were outside his apartment because they failed to identify themselves.

APD officers responded after receiving a welfare concern call from Vela’s friend Andrew Clark, former president of the Senate of College Councils. Clark said he received a call from Vela after members of the Senate leadership team had left Vela’s apartment following a cookout and meeting.

When officers got to the apartment, they said Vela answered the door armed with a gun, causing the responders to scatter before they could to talk to him. 

During the trial, officers said they felt Vela was a threat and thought he was targeting them with a laser.

“The laser did not fit Gene’s pistol,” Davis said Friday. “It fell off the gun when I asked the APD ballistics expert to affix the laser to the gun. It fell off dramatically a second time when I handed the gun back and said ‘try it again.’”

Vela, a former Marine veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and had an emotional episode the night of the standoff, Davis said.

Kiefer Shenk, a finance and sports management senior, worked with Vela on the Senate leadership team and said he hoped Vela’s PTSD would be taken seriously during the trial.

“It’s not taken as seriously as it needs to be,” Shenk said. “People, especially those with more severe cases of PTSD, struggle to live a normal life. Paranoia, suspicion and mistrust are hard things to control. These are people that spend their lives fighting for our country, yet our country won’t fight for them.”

Shenk said he had a good time working with Vela in Senate and that Vela always spoke about the campus issues and how to resolve them.

“I’m just really relieved he now gets the opportunity to get the help he deserved and needs,” Shenk said. “Whereas if he was found guilty, wherever he would have gone for any numbers of years, you’re not treated the same way when you’re incarcerated.”

Gene Vela, a former public affairs graduate student, listens to testimonies during his trial at the Travis County Courthouse on Friday morning. Vela is facing two charges of aggravated assault on a public servant.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Update (9:14 p.m.): Gene Vela walked out of the Travis County Courthouse a free man after being found not guilty of charges for aggravated assault against a public servant, making a terroristic threat, and unlawful carrying of a weapon.

The trial occurred more than a year after the initial standoff between Vela, a former public affairs graduate student, and Austin Police Department officers outside of Vela’s apartment. The jury reached a verdict of not guilty after four hours of deliberation.

After hearing that her son had been found not guilty of all charges, Karen Emerson, Vela’s mother, said she is happy the nightmare is over. She said the past year has been hard on her and Vela’s family. 

“Just even from the beginning, just finding out my son was shot and just having to wait all this time while he’s been in jail,” Emerson said. “It’s not easy for him and it’s not easy for the family for him to lose a year out of his life. I’m very, very grateful that he can resume his life.”

At press time Emerson was waiting for Vela to be processed and released before she could reunite with him.

“I’m just grateful that he’s out,” Emerson said. “ I’m grateful for the jurors and that they took into account all of the situation involved and they were very considerate and took a lot of consideration in making this decision and I’m grateful for that.”

When the trial began on Feb. 24, Vela’s lawyer, Skip Davis, argued Vela did not know the police were outside his apartment because they failed to identify themselves.

APD officers responded after receiving a welfare concern call from Vela’s friend Andrew Clark, former president of the Senate of College Councils. Clark said he had received a call from Vela after members of the Senate leadership team had left Vela’s apartment following a cook-out and meeting.

When officers got to the apartment, they said Vela answered the door armed with a gun, causing the responders to scatter before being able to talk to him. During the trial, officers said they felt Vela was a threat and thought he was targeting them with a laser.

“The laser did not fit Gene’s pistol,” Davis said. “It fell off the gun when I asked the APD ballistics expert to affix the laser to the gun. It fell off dramatically a second time when I handed the gun back and said ‘try it again.’”

Vela, a former Marine Veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and had an emotional episode the night of the standoff, Davis said.

Kiefer Shenk, a finance and sports management senior, worked with Vela on the Senate leadership team and said he hoped the PTSD would be taken seriously during the trial.

“It’s not taken as seriously as it needs to be,” Shenk said. “People, especially those with more severe cases of PTSD, struggle to live a normal life. Paranoia, suspicion and mistrust are hard things to control. These are people that spend their lives fighting for our country, yet our country won’t fight for them.”

Shenk said he had a good time working with Vela in Senate and that Vela always spoke about the campus issues and how to resolve them, but never mentioned his life as a Marine.

“I’m just really relieved he now gets the opportunity to get the help he deserved and needs,” Shenk said. “Whereas if he was found guilty wherever he would have gone for any numbers of years, you’re not treated the same way when you’re incarcerated.”

Original Story: Jurors found Gene Vela not guilty on all counts Wednesday after more than four hours of deliberations.

Vela, accused of engaging Austin police officers in an armed standoff in November 2013, faced charges of unlawful carrying of a weapon, aggravated assault against a public servant and terroristic threat.

Throughout the week-long trial, Vela’s defense lawyer, Skip Davis, sought to prove Vela had not known Austin police officers were at his door the night of the standoff. Davis argued Vela, a Marine veteran, was experiencing a severe episode of post-traumatic stress disorder and believed he was under attack.