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Austin Police Department unveils new safety plan for SXSW 2015

Austin Police Department unveils new safety plan for SXSW 2015

SXSW 2014 Thursday March 13 3612
APD is prepping for SXSW 2015 with a new safety plan.  Photo by Jon Shapley

KVUE — The Austin Police Department presented its safety action plan to the Public Safety Commission Monday, more than two months ahead of South by Southwest 2015.

The Interactive and Film festivals start March 13, and the public is getting excited for the event. "I'm really excited," said Tanya Mahr. "It's my first year actually attending the interactive conference."

SXSW promises to be bigger and better. All new this year, the city is permitting music venues during the interactive festival, potentially adding five more days of concerts. But some of the excitement surrounding Austin's premier event is overshadowed by the memory of tragedy. Four people were killed and nearly two dozen others were injured last year when a man drove through a barricade and into a crowd while fleeing from police.

"Is there things that we can always approve on? 100 percent. But, do I feel comfortable that we can have SXSW here and have it very safe? Yes," said Austin Police Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft.

APD doesn't release the number of officers working special events, but Dusterhoft said there will be 60 additional officers on duty. Thirty will respond solely to 911 calls while the others will be in key areas.

"We want to be able to make sure that they just deal with the issues at hand which is going to be the code enforcement, which is going to be the queuing of the lines. And then you have traffic officers dealing with just with traffic," he said.

On the final weekend of the music festival an additional 120 officers will be on hand for crowd control. Dusterhoft said those officers are the Special Response Team (SRT) and specialize in crowd management. The SRT was on hand the final weekend of SXSW last year.

Dusterhoft said all of the additional officers will come from non-patrol units, so response times in other parts of the city shouldn't be affected.

Another change this year is barricades will be manned. "We're going to have, at every key intersection, an officer with a marked patrol unit with their lights on," said Dusterhoft.

In addition to the boots on the ground, Austin police will monitor the 41 Halo cameras across the city and will use its mobile camera for the first time.

One of the most popular places to party, Sixth Street, will be a bit brighter for SXSW, literally. Austin Energy crews will replace the lights in the street lamps with adjustable LED lights. "It can be pretty hard to see here at night when it's dim, car lights are coming from whatever direction, from all the cross streets," said Austin resident Charles Elwonger. "And I can imagine that'll help out, seeing what's going on."

Police and city officials plan to open a command center during the festival as well. 


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