Austin street racing incidents: Mayor calls them 'illegal and outrageous'
AUSTIN, Texas - Austin Mayor Kirk Watson has called the street racing incidents that happened in Austin over the weekend "illegal and outrageous" and says "they will result in arrest."
An officer was injured and several police cars were damaged during street racing incidents across Austin late at night on Saturday, February 18, says the Austin Police Department.
One officer sustained a non-life-threatening injury, was treated at a local hospital, and was released. Rocks and bottles were thrown at patrol vehicles causing damage, says APD.
Watson made the comments in a statement he released on February 20. The mayor said that "the bigger issue is the significant wait times for 911 calls." His full statement is as follows:
"As the Austin Police Department has stated, the street takeovers over the weekend were illegal and outrageous; they will result in arrest. I’m relieved that the injured police officer is doing OK and the vehicle damage was limited."
"The dramatic videos have gone viral and made some folks Internet famous but, for me, the bigger issue is the significant wait times for 911 calls. Our 911 call center received four times the normal number of 911 calls during the incident on Saturday night and that led to unacceptably long waits. I’ve talked to Interim City Manager Jesús Garza and Chief Chacon about our options for dealing with our ongoing staffing challenges at 911 and hope to have at least a temporary solution soon."
"The Austin Police Association posted some false comments on Sunday that appeared to wrongly conflate this illegal incident with important community conversations about safety and oversight. Twitter is not an appropriate forum for contract negotiations, and no Austinite should ever accept the false choice between public safety and responsible policing — Austin can, and will, have both. If the Austin Police Association would like to talk about staffing and other issues, we welcome them back to the negotiating table to discuss a one-year contract."
"While we wait on the APA, the Austin City Council will take up an ordinance this week that will assure APD officers’ wages, benefits and payout of sick leave hours upon separation are continued as covered under the current contract, even if the City and the police union do not reach an agreement before the current contract expires on March 31. We want our police officers and their families to know that they are supported by this City."
"This ordinance will also establish the authority of the Office of the Police Oversight as an investigator as permitted by state law. This option will allow for investigations of anonymous complaints by citizens and police officers."
"I believe this ordinance can accomplish our goals, protect and provide security for our police officers, and allow for a robust and effective civilian oversight. But let me be clear – this is not a better outcome than a one-year agreement with the police association. It would be better for everyone if they would return to the negotiating table now, but if they do not then we must pass this ordinance to maintain effective recruiting and retention of APD officers."
Officer injured, police cars damaged in street racing incidents
Shortly after 9 p.m. Feb 18, someone called APD and reported five vehicles blocking the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard. Within minutes, more people called 911, saying several vehicles were racing, circling the intersection, running lights, blocking traffic and shooting fireworks.
APD says no units were nearby and officers responded to the scene just before 9:30 p.m. and cleared the intersection within 20 minutes. The Car Club then appeared to head north.
Just before 10:30 p.m., an officer reported the car club was in the area of the N I-35 service road and East Anderson Lane, with multiple vehicles driving recklessly, blocking the intersection and driving in circles. Officers dispersed that crowd as well, says APD.
Just before 1 a.m., multiple 911 calls came in from the area of Berkman Drive and Barbara Jordan Boulevard near the Mueller neighborhood. Officers at the scene reported glass bottles being thrown and dispersed the crowd quickly.
MORE: Austin streets taken over by street-racing incidents, APD officer hurt
More 911 calls received just after 1:30 a.m. reported vehicles blocking the Metric Boulevard/ Braker Lane intersection, doing donuts, and someone starting a fire. Officers dispersed that crowd just before 2 a.m.
Videos across social media showed cars doing donuts and people setting off fireworks while blocking traffic.
APD stated Saturday night that they were investigating the incidents and said they want to reiterate "reiterate this behavior is reckless & poses significant risks and dangers to the public."
In a follow-up statement on Twitter, APD says it is "committed to stopping this conduct" and that "lawbreaking in this manner will result in enforcement and arrest."
APD said Sunday that during the incidents, the crowd threw rocks and bottles and pointed lasers at officers.
Two people were arrested for evading arrest. The investigation into this incident continues, and further charges may be filed.