Brian Manley

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.”

The Austin Police Department has ordered protective equipment and outlined a quarantine response in case of an Ebola outbreak in Austin, according to a training announcement sent to officers.

The announcement, which was sent out Oct. 6, outlines officers’ responsibilities at the scene of a quarantine and specifies how they can access personal protective equipment.

According to the announcement, the Travis County Health and Human Services Department or the Texas Department of State Health Services is responsible for declaring a quarantine in case of an Ebola outbreak. Both organizations can declare a quarantine of any person or area. Anyone who tries to enter or exit a quarantine area faces a third-degree felony charge, and an officer may use “reasonable force” to secure the area and prevent people from accessing or leaving it, the announcement said.

The announcement does not say whether officers are allowed inside the home of an Ebola patient, but Assistant Chief Brian Manley said they may be called to the scene in the event of a quarantine.  

Manley said if APD were called to enforce a quarantine order, officers would act in a supporting role to serve any notices and make sure the quarantine order was enforced. 

“APD is in a support role when we respond to a medical call with [the Austin Fire Department] or EMS, and it would be the same if responding to a possible Ebola case,” Manley said. 

On Friday, President William Powers Jr. announced in an email that a UT student had self-quarantined him or herself after being on the same flight as a nurse with Ebola. Powers said the student would be staying home from class at his or her private residence. According to the University, the student will not return to school until Nov. 3. 

Manley said APD works closely with other departments to determine how to respond to possible infectious disease outbreaks.

“We are in daily communication with the health department, EMS and fire department to coordinate our efforts and train our officers on response protocols,” Manley said. 

Officers typically carry latex gloves with them but would also wear standard equipment on the scene of a quarantine, including a face mask, gloves and protective eyewear, the announcement said. 

APD has ordered personal protective equipment for its personnel, but the announcement instructs officers to ask EMS staff for any equipment they do not have. The Austin Fire Department will also carry extra masks and eyewear on its units, and officers can call for additional protective equipment if necessary.

According to Manley, APD is still monitoring the situation and tracking the number of Ebola cases in the state.

“This situation is constantly evolving, and the information is being passed to our officers as it develops,” Manley said. “There are many potential situations, but we can only plan for what we know today. As new information develops we will respond accordingly.”

Austin’s current booking facility, the Blackwell-Thurman Justice Center, is located downtown in the Travis County Justice Complex. The Austin Police Department has proposed plans to build a new booking center in North Austin.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Police Department has proposed plans for a new booking facility near Cameron Road that could save the city money and simplify the current booking process.

Brian Manley, Austin Police assistant chief, said citizens arrested in North Austin for minor offenses would go to the center for booking and processing, also known as magistration, and then either post bail or go to jail. Manley said serious offenders would still go to the Travis County Jail for long-term holding. 

“[Magistration] requires that a person arrested by a police officer is brought before a judge for the initial hearing, and it has to be done without delay,” Manley said. “In other words, within 48 hours, you have to either magistrate or release somebody, [so] this is an opportunity for a model that will free up officers’ time.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo initially proposed the new booking center at a meeting of the Austin City Council on Aug. 28. At the meeting, Acevedo said his officers spend an average of 58 minutes booking suspects at the Travis County Jail, and APD could eventually achieve a collective gain of 50,000 patrol hours per year by running its own magistration facility.

Acevedo said APD plans to renovate an existing building owned by the city for the new center. According to APD’s estimates, after 11 years of running the center, the city would save about $15 million, helping reduce the amount the city pays for officer overtime and to use the jail.

The facility is expected to cost $5.6 million and take 12-18 months to build. Members of the City Council raised concerns about where funding for the center would come from and whether the facility would fulfill the benefits proposed by APD.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD will follow its usual protocol when students are arrested. The closest booking facility to the University is currently at Travis County Jail.

“We will continue to conduct business as usual unless Travis County requests we do something different,” Posey said.

Manley said the new booking center would help increase efficiency and allow more officers to spend time on patrol.  

“We believe that we will see some budget savings, budgetary savings to the taxpayer and officer morale will be greatly increased,” Manley said. “The sooner that we can book somebody, get them magistrated and book them into a location, the sooner we can get our officers back to responding to the calls for service from people of the city of Austin.”

According to Manley, since APD pays around $6 million per year to use the Travis County Jail, the new facility would help cut down on costs. 

Manley said the city is still exploring sources of funding for the center, although Council Member Mike Martinez suggested using interest from bond sales as one potential source of funding. 

APD plans to collect public input and further study the plan before presenting it to the City Council for a final vote, Manley said.