Austin police are changing how they interact with the homeless downtown. They now have teams of officers walking around, talking with homeless people to identify and remove the barriers that keep them on the street. The other component involves removing what the department calls criminal transients.
FOX 7's Noelle Newton shows how officers are doing that in this week’s Crime Watch.
Austin police watch as people walk by an undercover officer lying on a downtown sidewalk. He's dressed like a homeless person. Cash is sticking out of his back pocket. He pretends to be asleep.
It's a moral test that is leading police to criminals who police say are preying on those who visit and live in the entertainment district.
"A lot of citizens just walk by him, just ignore him, some call EMS, there are some predatorial citizens or criminals who take advantage of the situation and take money off the undercover officer,” said Sgt. James Dixon.
We are watching with police as a man and woman approach the officer who is now lying under the I-35 overpass in front of APD headquarters.
The woman takes some of the cash out, but she's not finished. After about a minute of debating, she goes back.
The two walk right by our unmarked vehicle. Patrol officers are waiting to take them into custody.
Officers locate the money and charge her with the state jail felony of theft from person.
The man with her is booked in for two outstanding warrants. He is also found in possession of k-2.
They join a dozen others who have fallen for the bait.
"We see a lot of people that we arrest for theft from person who have been involved in crimes like robbery, burglary, theft so they have a lot of previous convictions,” said Dixon. “There's been no one we've arrested who did not have a previous criminal record."
The department feels there is a clear divide between those who occupy the streets.
In May we followed a newly established team of officers, mental health advocates and EMS. They talk with the homeless and help address their problems so they may get out of the situation.
Sgt. James Dixon's team targets what they call the criminal transient population.
His officers are continuously carrying out operations that result in felony arrests. Each charge has a minimum jail term of six months.
"Our focus is going to be on those serious criminals those violent criminals who prey on the homeless, who prey on the citizens of Austin in the entertainment district and we're going to arrest them. If we don't arrest them today, we're going to arrest them tomorrow,” said Dixon.