AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin Police Department (APD) and the 911 call center continue to face staffing shortages, APD said the department is prepared to keep things under control as the City of Austin prepares to welcome thousands for SXSW and other spring festivals.
“There will be police officers all over the place,” said Lt. Christopher Juusola, the operations lieutenant for APD.
During a press conference Tuesday about the “street takeovers” over the weekend, Chief Joseph Chacon addressed officer shortages as well and low staffing levels in the 911 call center, the latter of which resulted in extensive hold times.
However, the chief said “We are fully staffed from a security perspective for spring festivals and SXSW.”
On Tuesday, the Downtown Austin Alliance held a forum to discuss public safety ahead of SXSW, as well as the string of events that follow, like the Texas Relays and the CMT Music Awards. Representatives from APD, SXSW, CMT, Austin-Travis County EMS, the Austin Fire Department and Capital Metro spoke about safety plans and answered questions from community members.
“All of these festivals are planned events, which gives us enough time to prepare for them. We have been staffing these events for the past three months,” Juusola said.
Downtown Command will be staffed to more than 100% of its normal shifts for days and nights for the entirety of SXSW, according to Juusola’s presentation. There will also be designated patrol officers in the closed-off areas of Sixth, Red River and Rainey Streets.
“In most circumstances, every shift is authorized to have six more officers available and working those days,” Juusola said.
First responders will also staff up to full levels in other areas of town, so response times do not slow to calls unrelated to SXSW. On the law enforcement side, this will include help from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Additionally, mobile command posts will be set up to coordinate emergency communication throughout the event area, according to Juusola, so that 911 calls from other parts of the city can still get through to the Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center.
“But we want you to know there are still officers taking calls on the outside, so if you call 911 or 311, you’re gonna get a response for those,” Juusola said.
ATCEMS said it is operating similarly.
“Our goal is to have the ambulances who normally serve the neighborhoods stay in the neighborhoods and the extra services that we have serve SXSW,” said ATCEMS Division Chief Kevin Parker.
APD had similar department staffing levels last year, but still managed to staff up SXSW the way it wanted to.
Last year, four people were shot on Sixth Street the last night of SXSW.
APD also was able to seize dozens of guns and make 130 arrests during the festival last year through proactive gun violence and human trafficking prevention efforts.