Sergeant

Although the number of auto thefts in Austin has risen by 5 percent over the past year, police have recovered more cars from the thefts, according to APD Sgt. Robert Smith. 

Austin Police Department statistics show 1,611 cars have been stolen so far this year, compared to 1,498 in the first eight months of 2013. Despite the increase in thefts, Smith said APD has recovered more cars than last year. APD recovered 970 of 1,498 cars stolen in 2013, and while they recovered 1,028 of 1,611 in 2014, the rate of recovery is currently lower.

According to Smith, vehicles are more likely to be stolen or broken into over the summer.

“July and August are when we typically see a spike in the number of cars being stolen,” Smith said. “Those are the hottest months, so more people are traveling and leaving their cars unattended.” 

Smith said APD has asked for more detectives on the auto theft unit to cope with the increasing number of thefts and burglaries. According to APD’s budget plan, the unit currently has 10 detectives that handle an average of 340 auto theft cases per month.  

“City Council has decided to give us two more detectives, but we could use more,” Smith said. 

Smith attributes the increased recovery to policing efforts and an awareness campaign called “Watch Your Car,” which launched in July to raise awareness of auto thefts and burglaries. 

Vehicles are rarely stolen on campus, according to UTPD crime statistics. UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UT police did not receive any stolen vehicle reports in August. Last year, only eight auto thefts were reported to UTPD. 

Vehicle theft and break-ins are more frequent just outside of campus, with seven auto thefts reported in West Campus last month, according to APD’s incident database. Smith said leaving keys inside the vehicle is one of the most common mistakes people make before their cars are stolen
or burglarized.

“People leave their keys in their cars … and they’ll leave their iPods or electronics out in plain view, so then their cars get burglarized or stolen,” Smith said. “It’s a crime of opportunity.”

APD officer Jermaine Kilgore demonstrates how to use the current license plate database inside a patrol car Tuesday.

Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan staff

The Austin Police Department is in the market for new license plate readers after City Council allocated new funds for investment in the technology, according to APD Sgt. Robert Smith.

APD used its previous plate scanners from 2010 until 2012, when the department’s former vendor went out of business. Smith, who works in the Auto Theft Unit, said the readers are primarily used to locate and recover stolen vehicles.

“It’s a huge asset in finding stolen vehicles because the operators don’t even have to pay attention,” Smith said. “They just drive around, and the cameras and computers do all of the work. When a stolen car is found, it directs the officer to where it’s at, and the vehicle can be recovered.”

License plate readers are devices installed in select patrol cars and in areas of the city where auto theft rates are highest. The reader scans and photographs license plates and then feeds the plate information to a computer inside the patrol car.

“The computer is connected to the license plate database, and that information is just disseminated to a server,” Smith said. “If the plate of a stolen car is detected, it’ll tell you which car it is and where it was when it was found, and that allows any officer that’s working the equipment to find the stolen vehicle and recover it for a victim.”

Smith said the department will only be able to afford a few scanners.

“They’re very expensive units,” Smith said. “We wouldn’t have the funds to put them on all of the patrol cars. What we would do is we would put them in areas where most cars are either stolen or recovered, and then we would put them on probably only one or two cars. They’re not only expensive to buy, but they’re expensive to run.”

According to Genetec, a company with its own license plate recognition system, the devices are capable of reading up to 5,000 plates per minute and capturing license plates at speeds of up to 200 mph.

The scanners detect stolen vehicles based on information in the Texas Crime Information Center, where reported stolen vehicles’ license plate data are stored.

“When someone calls the police department and reports their vehicle stolen, that [license plate] information gets put into what’s called the TCIC database, which is a national crime information center,” Smith said. “The license plate reader taps directly into that, and, if there’s a match, it will tell you where the vehicle is.”

APD has not yet decided on a specific vendor from which to purchase its new readers, according to Smith.

“We just got money for them,” Smith said. “We have to [find] out what we need and find out what’s out there, get vendors to tell us what they have and what they can offer us.”

According to UTPD Sgt. Charles Bonnet, the students who overpowered 22-year-old Chenxi Deng after he used a fork to stab graduate student Li You in the nose last week were gutsy, but trying to be the hero isn’t always sensible. 

“We’re not going to take a stance saying everyone should get physically involved if you see something happening.” Bonnet said. “We leave that up to an individual’s morality, their own physical fitness. If you see something happening — if it means making a phone call, that’s what it means. These individuals felt comfortable subduing this guy, and it worked out in this case, but it might not always.”

Bonnet said the students acted heroically. 

“I don’t think there’s any other way to describe their actions,” Bonnet said. “The main point is that we’re all in this together in terms of campus safety. Whether its reported crimes or suspicious activities, we want to encourage a spirit of cooperation. This is just one way that manifested itself, but we’re not saying it’s the best way or the right way.”

Electrical engineering senior Shangheng Wu was one of several witnesses named in the police affidavit. Although Wu was not involved in the struggle to overwhelm Deng, he said he witnessed the moment firsthand.

“I heard a girl yelling continuously and I turned around,” Wu said. “A white guy just ran to the assailant immediately and the assailant was tackled down to the ground. The white guy restrained the assailant and kept him on the ground, yelling that ‘What the fuck are you doing? You just stabbed a girl!’ The other witnesses held the assailant’s feet and helped keep him on the floor.” 

According to the police affidavit, You had four visible puncture wounds on the left side of her nose and abrasions near her left eye, as well as a possible
nose fracture.

Hongjiang Li, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student who knows the victim personally, said she is getting better.

“All I can say about the victim is that she’s recovering,” Li said. “She doesn’t want this to be a public topic anymore.”

According to Bonnet, Deng followed the victim from China in order to re-kindle a romantic relationship. The police affidavit said Deng was auditing classes that would put him in close contact with the victim.

Non-UT students are virtually unrestricted in registering to audit classes and only require an instructor’s signature and $20.

Deng will be in court on Oct. 9. He is charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, under the category of dating violence, which is a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Deng’s attorney, Peter Bloodworth, declined to comment on the case.

Marine Sgt. Gary Stein speaks with reporters in front of the federal court building Friday, April 13, 2012, in San Diego. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff on Friday, April 13, 2012 denied a request to block discharge proceedings of Stein, who faces being kicked out of the military and loss of benefits for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A sergeant will be discharged for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook in a case that called into question the Pentagon’s policies about social media and its limits on the speech of active duty military personnel, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

Sgt. Gary Stein will get an other-than-honorable discharge and lose most of his benefits for violating the policies, the Corps said.

The San Diego-area Marine who has served nine years in the Corps said he was disappointed, and argued that he was exercising his constitutional rights to free speech.
“I love the Marine Corps, I love my job. I wish it wouldn’t have gone this way. I’m having a hard time seeing how 15 words on Facebook could have ruined my nine-year career,” he told The Associated Press.

Gary Kreep, an attorney for Stein, said he would pursue administrative appeals within the Marine Corps but anticipates the effort will fail. He said he planned to file an amended complaint in federal court.

“As long as he wants to pursue this, we will be supporting him,” said Kreep, who is executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, an advocacy group.
The Marines acted after saying Stein stated March 1 on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists, “Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him.” Stein later clarified, saying he would not follow unlawful orders.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, said Wednesday that evidence supported a recommendation to
discharge Stein.

Tom Umberg, a former Army colonel and military prosecutor, believes the decision to discharge Stein will have limited impact because the vast majority of Marines would never consider such postings.

“I think 99 percent of the soldiers and Marines currently on duty understand the duties of supporting the chain of command and understand their rights of free speech are limited,” he said. “To that 1 percent who don’t know their rights to free speech are limited once they take the oath, this is a loud and
clear message.”

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Case explores military free speech
 

Israel Defense Forces Sgt. Benjamin Anthony discussed the realities of war and biased media coverage from a front line perspective during an on-campus speech Thursday night.

Texans for Israel, UT College Republicans and a media group called CAMERA hosted the talk, which both interested students and protesters attended.

During his talk, Anthony told tales of fallen comrades and presented true stories of his first war’s experience to the audience.

“It is horrific,” Anthony said. “It is really horrific.”

Anthony discussed seeing a dead body for the first time, camouflaging a dear friend for battle, watching juveniles write out their wills on tuna can labels and other graphic and disturbing incidents he witnessed firsthand. He said he wanted to convey the realities of war in order to inspire the room to take action for peace.

Anthony ended his speech by talking about what he sees as unfair media coverage in regards to the IDF. He cited several incidents of media bias to explain how this coverage can occur.

He discussed his unit breaking windows in houses they were staying in while in combat. They then used the glass, he said, to alert themselves to incoming deadly invaders by spreading it around the perimeter of homes, so that enemies could be heard approaching. Anthony said that an incident like this had been called “willful destruction of property” by the media.

“I can live with a broken window not a dead comrade,” Anthony said.

Dozens of UT students stood up at the beginning of Anthony’s speech displaying signs with the names, ages and dates of death of innocent casualties killed by IDF forces in Israel, some as young as seven months. About two dozen of the protestors walked out of the speech, and once in the hallway of the SAC they chanted, “free Palestine.” Others stood silently throughout the meeting with their faces covered to represent the casualties.

“We were representing the voices that have been silenced,” protester and Middle Eastern studies senior Yajaira Fraga said.

The protest addressed the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Although the protesters made a statement, their efforts did not directly relate to the main purpose of Sgt. Anthony’s speech.

Anthony said citizens must responsibly examine headlines and not “lower our heads” to the complex issues. He said if his army can stand strong in enemy battle without lowering their heads, then we as Americans can do the same in our approach to approaching media coverage.

College Republicans President said she felt the protest overall had little effect on the speech’s result and called it, “a small 30-second interruption to an overall great lecture.”

“It’s not just an issue for Jews, Palestinians, Israelis or any other single group, but an issue for all,” Wright said. “It is one I am proud to bring to this campus.”  

Printed on Friday, January 27 as: Israeli soldier discusses his wartime experiences

Review

In Showtime's compelling new political thriller "Homeland," Claire Danes portrays Carrie Matheson, a CIA agent convinced that recently recovered prisoner of war Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has aligned his loyalty with Al Qaeda and is a part of a planned attack on American soil. (Photo courtesy of Showtime)

Much of Showtime’s original programming falls into the trap of over-reliance on a central conceit, without which they generally struggle, having little substance outside that conceit on which to build a thematically strong story. “Dexter” would have little to stand on if the title character swore off serial killing, and if suburban mom Nancy Botwin ditched the pot business for good, “Weeds” would certainly flounder.

However, Showtime’s new paranoid political thriller “Homeland” defies that reliance. It is a subtly crafted show that expertly balances its many themes — the ethicality of government surveillance, Americans’ perception of Islam and its relationship with terrorism, the crippling mental effect of war on soldiers — with both ambiguity and delicacy, while also carrying off some spectacular plotting and character twists.

“Homeland” centers on Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), a young CIA agent who, although doggedly committed to her job, is emotionally and mentally unstable. Carrie lives with the unending guilt over not having caught a clue that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks and this guilt both motivates and handicaps her work.

When Carrie is given a tip from an interrogation subject that an American solider has turned to al-Qaida, she immediately zeroes in on Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a recently recovered American prisoner of war who spent eight years being interrogated by the Iraqi regime of Abu Nazir (a fictional and vaguely bin Laden-like terrorist leader). Carrie uses all the government power she can scrounge up to investigate Brody, beginning by setting up a surveillance system in his house and scrutinizing his every move.

In contrast with all the political intrigue involved in “Homeland,” the show also manages to make its portrayal of its characters’ domestic lives just as compelling. Carrie’s slow descent into paranoia, fueled by her as-yet unnamed mental illness builds tension, and Danes’s manic portrayal of a woman consumed in turns by jittery paranoia, self-doubt and fierce righteousness is blistering. Sgt. Brody’s wife Jessica’s (Morena Baccarin) indecision over whether or not to tell Nick that she’s fallen in love with his best friend while she took him for dead in his absence is also anguishing.

It’s the delicate ambiguity with which “Homeland” treats subjects like American surveillance, mental illness and the revelation of Brody’s conversion to Islam that make the show so remarkable. Paradoxically, the show’s hesitance to make any hard-and-fast moral statements about these subjects make “Homeland” all the more bold in its ambivalent assessment of post-9/11 America.

The show also sets itself apart by constantly defying viewers’ expectations about the typical twists and turns of a political thriller. For instance, any other serial drama might have drawn out Carrie’s surveillance of the Brody household for an entire season. However, the show dispenses with this plot device within four episodes as Carrie’s warrant expires, forcing her into more and more morally dubious situations in order to keep track of Brody.

Now that “Homeland” has been officially renewed for a second season and Showtime has confirmed that the enigmatic P.O.W. Sgt. Brody will be present for at least another season, it’s all the more uncertain what direction “Homeland” will take in seasons to come. Luckily for us, uncertainty is what “Homeland” does best.

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Showtime finds success with political thriller

When an incoming rocket round hit Sgt. Johnny Alexander during his service in Vietnam, he lost both of his legs, his back was crushed and he was paralyzed from the neck down.

Now, decades later, he is participating in the Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge, and plans to participate in all of the other challenges across the country, as well as the ride that will take place in France in June.

John Wordin, a professional bicyclist, founded Ride 2 Recovery in 2008, as a way to help rehabilitate wounded veterans suffering from physical or post-traumatic stress-related injuries.

“It’s made it a lot better just by being able to be around other people with the same disabilities that I have and being able to do things that I didn’t think I would be able to do,” he said.

Wordin works with each veteran to provide them with a bicycle that will accommodate their injuries, and they get to keep their bikes when they finish the ride, said Ride 2 Recovery spokeswoman Debora Spano.

The Texas Challenge began in San Antonio on March 28 and will finish in the Dallas area on April 2. Other challenges take place in Virginia, Minnesota, New York, California, Florida and France.

The organization works with the military and Veterans Affairs Volunteers Services Offices, with UnitedHealthcare as their presenting sponsor. Through a series of fundraisers, UnitedHealthcare helped to raise money to pay for the veterans’ bikes.

“We’re a company that prides itself on helping people live healthier lives,” said Mark Robinson, UnitedHealthcare’s vice president of marketing. “Our mission really comes to life on something like this.”

Those who participate also build a strong sense of camaraderie that most of them no longer experience when they return from their tours of duty, veterans said. The ride also serves as motivation for the participants to continue working through and around their injuries.

“I think it’s a good avenue to get away, to motivate yourself to get away from focusing on the negatives and focusing on a sport so you can make yourself better by doing it,” said Staff Sgt. Jerry Magallanes, who served in Iraq and suffered from a traumatic brain injury.


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A United States Senate sergeant at arms and Vietnam War veteran will be the UT System’s new director of police, a spokesman for the System announced Tuesday.

UT System spokesman Matt Flores said Michael Heidingsfield, who is the current senior assistant to the chief law enforcement officer in the Senate, was the best choice after a national search for the new director. Heidingsfield will take up the position on April 4. Sergeant at arms Terrence Gainer announced his new position Tuesday.

“Mike will oversee 15 police chiefs, 500 sworn officers and 800 civilian staff in his new role,” Gainer said in a statement. “The issues he will contend with range from border violence to active shooters to threats of bioterrorism.”

The human resources job posting said the director of police provides legal and policy advice and oversees the systemwide law enforcement. He is also in charge of training officers.

During his time working for the U.S. Senate, Heidingsfield advised security for events such as the Democratic and Republican national conventions and the presidential inauguration. Prior to that, he worked as the as chief of police in Scottsdale, Ariz., and UT-Arlington.

Heidingsfield was an active member of the Air Force at the end of the Vietnam War and retired as a full colonel. The Air Force requested his services during the Iraq War to train a 135,000-member Iraqi Police Service.

“Mike is extraordinarily qualified for this position,” said a release from the UT System Department of Public Affairs. “He will add great value to our ongoing efforts to ensure the protection, safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, community and facilities throughout the state.”

Heidingsfield earned his master’s at Texas Christian University and his bachelor’s at Florida State. He is a published author and speaker on criminal justice.
 

Frost-covered roads following Friday’s wintry weather led to more than 400 accidents in and around the Austin area, according to the Austin Police Department. The subfreezing weather that began Tuesday afternoon did not result in dangerous conditions until precipitation caused the roads to become slick and icy beginning late Thursday night. Nearly 205 reported collisions occurred between 10 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, and more than 121 additional collisions occurred between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday, mostly from people driving too fast for the weather conditions, said APD Lt. Wayne Demoss. Texans who aren’t accustomed to driving in icy weather also contributed to the rise in accidents around Austin, said UT Police Department Sgt. Jose Peña. “The roads seem like they’re very clear and, all of a sudden, drivers will hit shady areas,” he said. “That’s what happened on Dean Keeton [Street] with all of the buildings blocking the sun — the areas were still frozen, and some drivers weren’t being too careful when driving through them.” UTPD did not receive any reports of collisions on campus before 1 p.m. Friday, Peña said. “It’s definitely because classes were canceled — it reduced the volume of traffic,” Peña said. “All the surrounding areas have a steady flow of traffic, so that’s where all the accidents were.” UTPD normally responds to about two to three accidents per day, and nine vehicles crashed on Dean Keeton Street at around 1:30 p.m. Friday, said UTPD Sgt. Wayne Coffey. “Speed has a lot to do with it,” he said. “People aren’t paying attention to the changing road conditions.” None of the collisions and traffic accidents in Austin resulted in fatalities or injuries because they were mostly fender-benders, he said. Roads and intersections were closed for deicing Friday, including 15th Street and Lamar Boulevard, and sections of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, San Antonio, Cesar Chavez and Nueces streets. “When we have weather like this, we don’t like to close roads because if you close a main road, people will just get on side streets, which are even worse than the main roads because they don’t get any deicing,” Demoss said. “We try not to close any of the major thoroughfares if we don’t have to, the rule has been if a sand truck can get up there to it, then we won’t close it, but there were some areas on Friday that were just too steep to get to.” Sand trucks ran through the night and morning to increase traction on the roads, especially on areas going uphill or downhill, he said. A large number of calls came in to assist motorists who didn’t get into collisions, but were stuck in an icy area and couldn’t move, Demoss said. “Everybody thinks that accidents can’t happen to them, but yes they will — and they do. I would dare to say that a lot of people who were on the road didn’t really have to be but chose to be,” Demoss said. APD Cmdr. Jason Dusterhoft said when it began snowing, people didn’t realize there was ice underneath overpasses and in areas sand trucks had not reached. “People were driving too fast and weren’t slowing down quick enough, and they’d lose control of their cars on the ice,” Dusterhoft said. Prior to the storm Thursday night, the freezing temperatures did not cause the number of traffic accidents to rise higher than normal, Dusterhoft said. “We haven’t really had any issues before [Thursday],” Dusterhoft said. “We had to close several intersections Friday morning and overpasses due to how much ice was there, and until the trucks got there we couldn’t open them up. Most locations, if not all, were open by noon.” Drivers may get another chance to hone their skills when another cold front hits the Austin area Wednesday. --- Snow accidents UTPD reported a nine-car accidents off of Dean Keeton Street. APD reported more than 325 accidents between Thursday and Friday. Travis County Sheriff’s Office reported about 90 accidents. 0 fatalities or serious injuries

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.