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Waste Watch: Are 24 Hour Parks Worth It?

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 09:47 PM CDT
Keeping Austin's city parks open 24/7, is that worth millions of your tax dollars?

The Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail closes every night at 10 p.m. and reopens at 5 a.m., but city council is considering expanding the hours to keep it open all night.

In a KEYE TV Waste Watch Investigation, we looked into how much money it's going to take to keep you safe on the trail for the additional seven hours.

It only took a short walk through Zilker Park to find evidence of criminal behavior.  We went out with officers on patrol Friday afternoon and found evidence of sex and drug use, a problem officers say is on the rise.

But crimes aren't just limited to sex and drugs. In the past five years, there have been six murders, 100 sexual assaults, 200 robberies and 250 aggravated assaults in Austin's parks, according to APD statistics. 

With Austin City Council's proposal to expand park hours, APD officers say those numbers could spike.

"If we were to open the trail up, we would have some concerns," said APD Chief of Staff David Carter. Carter told the Public Safety Commission it would take an additional 20 officers and around $3 million to patrol the parks that City Council wants to now keep open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When asked if the police department has the money or the resources to dedicate to the extra park hours, Chief Art Acevdeo said "No, we don't right now."

Chief Acevdeo said that if council wants to green-light the extended park hours, council should fund the patrols or deal with a possible uptick in crime.

But public safety commissioners questioned whether or not the crime spike would really happen, considering the limited number of people using the park during those hours.

"Some other major cities have done this [expanded park hours] and have apparently experienced no increase in crime," questioned one commissioner.

But Chief Carter responded by saying the police department wasn't willing to take a gamble that crime wouldn't spike.  "We cannot afford to not police that, especially going into this with a big unknown," he said.

City Council will make the final call on expanding park hours, likely at Thursday's meeting.

But, according to police, seven more hours of park time means millions more in police funding. "Our job as police officers is to do our very best, we will do that, we do it well," said Chief Acevedo. "But sooner or later something's got to give. And I'm really worried about safety."

By Karen KileyWaste Watch: Are 24 Hour Parks Worth It?


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