AUSTIN (KXAN) — As thousands of people flood to Austin for the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, many are also visiting Austin bars and congregating downtown. It comes after two weekends where thousands more visited for Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Peter Wickenheisser, who has now been to Austin a handful of times for races, said he’s figured out the spots in Austin he’s comfortable spending time at versus the ones he’s going to avoid.
“I’ve seen chaos in all sorts of places in the world, and I’m just not into the over-excited crowds and complete drunkenness. I want subtle drunkenness,” he said.
For the people who do want to brave the crowds, a detective with the Austin Police Department and vice president of the Austin Police Association said the department is again at critical staffing levels. He said policing big events and the aftermath of people crowding into downtown has been a challenge.
“Austin’s a very busy town, there are a lot of events, a lot of great things going on. Those events aren’t going to cancel because of the situation the city has created with us being so short-staffed within the department,” Joe Swann said.
According to Swann, there are 277 true vacancies in the department and roughly 100 people on medical or military leave.
“We’ve had three officers retire or resign this week. We’ve had three police cadets resign this week as well,” he added. Swann said officers are being offered gigs elsewhere. Contract negotiations between APA and the city are happening now.
APD did not provide an interview before our deadline but told us, “APD works diligently to ensure that we have adequate staffing numbers to safely cover patrol and the events around town.”
Austin-Travis County EMS said it is well-staffed this weekend, and the multi-agency task force that stages downtown will be there for the F1 crowds. That task force includes APD officers.
“Unfortunately we have had some tragic things happen in large crowds, especially on the weekends. We saw that during the spring festival season when there was a shooting downtown, and our rescue task force personnel were on the scene within about 90 seconds,” ATCEMS Captain Christa Stedman said.
APD provided the following tips if you’re going to be downtown:
- Pay attention to your surroundings, especially in crowds.
- Keep your phone and ID/credit cards/cash in separate places on your person.
- Do not keep your phone in your back pocket — phones sticking out of back pockets or backpacks are not secure.
- Keep property in a secure location (front pocket, fanny pack) or leave it at home.
- Record serial number information for your device and store it separately.
- Notify on-site security/APD immediately for assistance.
- Utilize APD’s online reporting site or Austin 3-1-1 (non-emergency) to report theft.
- If you see something, say something.
“Austin really isn’t that dangerous of a place, but it’s always good to have a buddy system,” William Platt, who lives on East Sixth Street told us.