AUSTIN (KXAN)– Just off of Barbara Jordan Boulevard, Luis and Elida Bonet were leaving a concert at the AISD Performing Arts Center when they stumbled upon a different show on the street.
“Probably five or six different cars just drifting, burning tires,” Luis recalled.
It was a street takeover, one of several that broke out in Austin on Saturday night.
“It just kept on going, just kept on going,” Luis said.
The incident prompted a lockdown at Dell Children’s down the street.
“This weekend, an incident in Mueller near Dell Children’s Medical Center resulted in increased traffic in the area and vehicles in the Dell Children’s parking lot. In an abundance of caution, the hospital was locked down. APD and hospital security worked together to ensure the hospital and surrounding areas were safe. The hospital was determined secure. The safety of our staff, patients and their families are our top priority,” a spokesperson for the facility said.
Elida said she waited for about three minutes for 911 to answer her call.
“There was so much smoke. It was scary!” she said.
In a statement Monday, Mayor Kirk Watson said the 911 call center received “four times the normal number of 911 calls” that night, leading to “unacceptably long waits.”
Watson added that he has spoken to the interim city manager and Austin Police Chief about the 911 staffing challenges and hopes “to have at least a temporary solution soon.”
“I’m happy to know that the city is taking the concerns of council seriously and addressing them,” said district 6 city council member Mackenzie Kelly.
Kelly said she also reached out to APD’s emergency communications division on Monday after hearing that another city council member was waiting for 911 for nearly 30 minutes.
The department sent her a report indicating they still have 63 unfilled positions for 911 call-takers and dispatchers. That’s not much progress from the 70 open positions KXAN reported at the end of 2022.
Along with call-takers and dispatchers, the report shows unfilled supervisor and lead positions, for a total of 68 vacancies.
It also indicates what progress it is making toward hiring: Eight people have been hired from January’s recruiting class, with dozens of applicants in upcoming classes this month and next month.
Until then, scary moments on Saturday for those waiting on the line for help.
“You hear all the fireworks, you hear all that, you hear everything that goes in the schools and you’re thinking, ‘Oh no, what is going to happen now?’ And I imagine that went through the mind of a lot of people,” Elida said.
APD patrol staffing
Kelly said while 911 staffing has been a concern for her for many years, solving this problem wouldn’t have prevented “unlawfulness from happening in our community.”
“That’s something that we need a well staffed and well trained police force to be able to address if and when the time happens,” she said.
She said APD still has 259 total vacancies, 230 of them patrol positions.
“We know that officers are being taken out of their roles off of patrol and being put onto patrol. And my biggest concern here is having a catastrophic failure because we’re not able to respond to respond to multiple incidents across the city,” Kelly said.
In its report to Kelly, APD’s emergency communications division also provided its latest response times, indicating that between January 15th and January 31st, officers’ average response time to its most urgent calls was 11 minutes.
Last year, police staffing researchers said an ideal response time would be 6 minutes and 30 seconds.