Northwest Austin neighborhoods pay out of pocket for more policing

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Updated June 5, 4:25 p.m.

Concerns over speeding and security have led at least three Northwest Austin neighborhoods to pay for extra law-enforcement patrols.

On top of its individual tax contributions to the city’s police budget, the Balcones Village/Spicewood Homeowners Association—located west of US 183 and south of Anderson Mill Road—pays the Travis County Constable’s Office to deploy off-duty officers to the 1,100-home neighborhood in an effort to increase the safety of its streets.

The pilot program started in January, and HOA President Jacque Forrest said it has been successful.

“Residents have expressed continued concern about traffic in the neighborhood, especially speeding, as well as the amount [of vehicles]due to cut-through traffic,” Forrest said. “Realistically patrols by law-enforcement officers issuing citations for excessive speed and reckless driving is seen as the only effective way to get everyone to slow down.”

The BV/S HOA pays a standard rate of $65 per hour for one officer and patrol car, according to Lt. Jeff Parker of Travis County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office. Forrest said everyone in the 600-member HOA contributes equally through membership dues.

The HOA is one of four similar homeowner or neighborhood groups that privately contract with the constable’s office for extra traffic and crime-deterrent patrols, according to Parker. The constable’s office has resident-paid patrols in the Dominion at Great Hills off Yaupon Drive, the Village of the Hills Property Owner’s Association in Lakeway and the Highland Park West Balcones Area.

The Austin Police Department provides a similar off-duty patrol program. Forrest said the BV/S HOA looked into the APD’s program, but she said the constable’s office pay rate of schedule flexibility made it a better fit.

For the past 20 years, the Anderson Mill Limited District has paid the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for two deputies to provide added security on AMLD property and parks.

‘We’re out there to deter’

The BV/S HOA began the program with four to six patrols per week at various times, concentrating on morning and evening commute traffic. That number has dropped to between one and three patrols per week, barring any special circumstance in which the HOA feels more are required, Forrest said.

Though she declined to provide hard evidence, Forrest said the program has been worthwhile.

“The visibility of officers is a deterrent to vandalism and crime,” Forrest said. “We track the number of stops made per patrol—there has been a drop of about 25 percent.”

Although the visibility deters crime, Parker said “99.9 percent” of the constable patrols’ duty is traffic control.

“We’re out there to deter,” Parker said. “[APD] is just spread so thin; they do not have enough traffic-control officers to work every neighborhood that has a speeding problem that needs to be addressed.”

APD Lt. Daniel Watson said although the constable’s office assists the neighborhoods in traffic control, the department is still responsible for crimes, 911 calls and emergency services. Watson said there has not been any issues of encroachment between the two patrolling agencies.

A resources issue?

The city budget authorizes APD to have a 1,908-officer roster. Ely Reyes, assistant chief of the North Patrol Region, said APD’s 130 current vacancies is relatively low. In the northwest sector of Region 2, the APD patrol area in which the BV/S HOA lies, Reyes said the department has three vacancies, the lowest vacancy rate in the city.

In addition to the incoming cadet classes expected to fill the current vacancy gap by the end of this year, Reyes said the police department will seek authorization from City Council to add 77 new patrol officer positions, seven corporals and four sergeants.

But even with additional resources, District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said police resources should go first to areas where violent crime is an issue.

“It makes sense in the community and District 6 that you apply resources to violent crime first,” Flannigan said. “If we want to provide traffic monitoring or property crime abatement, we don’t need highly trained, armed and badged officers driving from Parmer Lane to take a report about a stolen laptop.”

Flannigan supported the civilian Community Service Officer program proposed in the Final Report on Community Policing released last August. The report states that bringing on a team of civilian officers to handle low-priority and non-emergency calls would help bring more trained resources to priority areas while providing patrols in the low-intensity neighborhoods.

Editor’s note: This post was updated to correct information about the Anderson Mill Limited District. The neighborhood does not pay for additional code enforcement. It does pay for additional security through an agreement with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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