AUSTIN, Texas - This year, there has been an increase in violent crime in the downtown Austin area and a shortage of police officers.
Now, the owner of a private security company is hoping to help make Austin’s entertainment districts safer.
Chris Vasquez said it was clear to him that the majority of bars in downtown Austin were lacking the kind of security he saw in other major cities.
“There's not a lot of bars here that search for weapons. There's not a lot of bars that are on the lookout for these type of things,” said Vasquez.
After learning about the large number of unfilled positions at the police department, and several attacks involving deadly weapons, he decided to step up.
“I think it's time for a change and I think a lot of people see it,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez started VSI Secure last summer. With about 15 employees so far, the company has been working with bars on 6th Street and Rainey street to keep customers safe.
“Most places where they ask us to search, we'll find multiple knives a night,” said Vasquez.
His team comes equipped with body cameras and metal detectors, sometimes armed in their security uniforms, other times in business suits.
Vasquez said in the last seven months they have even been able to help police locate suspects.
“I think what we do differently is, we're actually there when it happens and that's a huge difference. Someone's coming a minute later, 30 seconds later, that's the difference between seeing the guy who shot or not seeing the guy who shot,” Vasquez said.
This week he took his plans to City Council hoping he could help expand the idea to more bars who can't afford it by asking city leaders to subsidize businesses that hire private security.
“I think the city and APD has a responsibility to the city, to the community and to the citizens to protect them at bars, and I currently believe there is no protection at the bar scene in Austin, which is a large tourist attraction,” Vasquez said in council chambers.
Council did not respond to his comments.
So what do customers think?
“I can see both sides. On the one hand, it would feel like there was an extra safety measure and, obviously, as a woman out late at night, you don't want to be in a space where people have weapons. But, on the other hand, it is a bit of an invasion of people's privacy and I can see people feeling uncomfortable about that,” said Camille who did not want to give her last name.
Vasquez said his team doesn't only work with bars, they also cover special events like SXSW or even college parties.