APD has launched a new safety initiative in West Campus. They've designated two officers to strictly patrol that area to tackle issues including aggressive panhandling. We first told you about this two weeks ago. We have an exclusive look at those officers on the job.
This initiative comes as school is about to start. That's when the number of students will increase and police say crime is expected to increase as well. Up and down west campus, you'll see two men in blue mixed in with burnt orange. Officer Ryan Watkins and Officer Joe Murray were recently put on this special assignment. They're patrolling on bike to keep students safe after multiple incidents of graffiti and aggressive panhandling. Those are their two main concerns.
"Somebody will flag us down. We'll go over and sure enough somebody is standing on the corner yelling or getting angry that they're being told 'no' when they ask for money," says Officer Ryan Watkins, Austin Police Department.
This is putting some students in a difficult situation.
"Sometimes it's just uncomfortable to say 'no' because they can get upset and that's just scary, that they get upset," says Gloria Pena, UT student.
Wednesday morning they got called over to the 7-Eleven on 24th and San Gabriel for a shoplifting incident, involving a suspicious man. Not even two hours later they had him in custody - a known transient in the area.
"We came back out to the area where we last saw them and started searching the area and found him a few blocks down," says Officer Watkins.
They were also recently flagged down by a female who reported the beginnings of what could have possibly turned into an assault. But, they say she left the scene before things escalated.
"Our goal in this has really been to be highly visible and approachable. It is faster for us to respond a lot of times on bicycles over here. So our hope is that if there is a 911 call placed, we can actually get someone to them faster," says Watkins.
Their focus is between Martin Luther King/29th Street and Guadalupe/Lamar. Along that route, they are trying to make as many contacts as they can. The owner of Austin's Pizza says his main concern has been with the amount of transients in the alley.
"We used to have dumpster fights, people looking for trash, spare pieces of pizza," says JD Torian, Austin's Pizza.
That has recently been cleaned up and he's happy Austin Police are working to keep crime down.
"They've been around introducing themselves, they're really asking the right questions and certainly from a tenant standpoint, they seem to really want to know what the deal is so they can try and fix it."
That's exactly what these officers say they plan to do. As of right now the initiative is indefinite. APD says they're working to get 24/7 coverage in this area.