Vandals repeatedly terrorize southeast Austin business, APD seeking info

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A southeast Austin business, located on the corner of Interstate 35 and Highway 71, has been repeatedly terrorized by vandals who have thrown cinder blocks through widows, slashed tires and destroyed company vehicles.

The business, which has asked to remain anonymous, reported five incidents since May 21, 2021.

The window of a passenger van was shattered after a man was seen heaving a heavy object through it on July 1, 2021.
The window of a passenger van was shattered after a man was seen heaving a heavy object through it on July 1, 2021.
  • May 21: Cinder block thrown through windshield
  • June 6: Tires slashed
  • June 17: Van windows shattered, equipment stolen
  • July 1: Vandal caught on camera throwing heavy object through van window
  • July 2: Different van’s window smashed

The attack on Thursday, July 1 occurred in broad daylight and was caught on camera.

In the cellphone video taken by a coworker, you can see a shirtless, tattooed man heave a heavy object through the passenger-side window of the company van. He then takes off running into the woods in the direction of a homeless camp situated less than 100 yards away.

Zack Bartlett, the business manager, said in many instances, nothing is stolen. He called the crimes “senseless.” Bartlett said Austin 311 and the Austin Police Department have been contacted on nearly all occasions for insurance purposes, but no action has been taken to prevent it from happening again.

A different van was targeted earlier in the year. There have been at least 5 reported instances of vandalism since May 21, 2021.
A different van was targeted earlier in the year. There have been at least 5 reported instances of vandalism since May 21, 2021.

Bartlett said officers responded to the location several hours after placing the report on Thursday, but only stayed for a few minutes and never got out of their car to investigate.

“Reaching out to the police and not having any response or action plan is just really a disheartening feeling,” Bartlett said. “This isn’t the middle of nowhere Texas. This is Austin. We expect a higher level of service from our law enforcement.”

When KXAN questioned APD about the officers’ response to Thursday’s incident, a spokesperson said the crime will be investigated further.

“We are looking into this matter to determine the details involved in the incident. The Austin Police Department does not have an existing policy that prohibits an officer’s ability to enforce laws. There are no policies the TCDA’s Office has that prohibit enforcement by APD officers. There has been no change to the APD’s response to criminal activity, regardless of who is committing the crime.”

APD Spokesperson

Austin Police Lieutenant Lee Davis, who leads community engagement efforts following the passage of Proposition B on homelessness, said unless officers witness a crime occurring with their own eyes, they can’t make an arrest. He encouraged victims of crimes to continue to file official incident reports so detectives can build a stronger case.

“If it’s a crime in progress, it’s different than something that’s happened. Some considerations for when the officer responds is, ‘is this an imminent threat? Can we stop the conduct? Is this a known individual?'” Lt. Davis said. “If you feel like you are a victim of a crime or witness a crime, call 911. We will respond.”

Bartlett hopes by sharing his story, it leads to greater police oversight and accountability.

Both the city's 311 department and Austin Police have been contacted after the crimes have occurred, but the manager said he is disheartened by the overall lack of response.
Both the city’s 311 department and Austin Police have been contacted after the crimes have occurred, but the manager said he is disheartened by the overall lack of response.

“When a situation like this comes up, we should be able to rely on our police force to protect us and help us when we need it,” Bartlett said. “We don’t get any meaningful responses from the city or police, so it really feels like we are on an island trying to manage this.”

311 Response

On several instances, Bartlett said Austin 311 was contacted. While the city’s 311 team did not comment on this specific case, it provided information about the department’s handling of vandalism calls.

If the act is in progress or there is an immediate threat to anyone’s life or property where the suspect is still on scene, 311 will transfer the call to 911.

If the act has already happened, 311 will submit a report to APD’s non-emergency line for further investigation.

If the act has occurred, the suspects are not on scene and the caller feels it is related to homelessness, then an ARR-Homelessness Matters service request is submitted in addition to the non-emergency report. This notifies APD district representatives for that specific area.

Since Jan. 1, 2021, city representatives say there have been 17 different 311 calls tied to vandalism within a half-mile radius of the Bartlett’s location near I-35 and Highway 71. A total of 27 different 311 calls were placed during that same time period specifically related to homeless matters.

Reach KXAN’s Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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