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Austin Council Postpones 24-Hour Park Vote; APD Ramping Up Patrol
Longer hours to save lives, though at the potential cost of millions. On Thursday, City Council members postponed until Jan. 17 the decision on whether or not to make three of the more popular hike and bike trails open 24 hours as part of a pilot program.
A memo from the City Manager’s office shows policing the parks overnight could take two dozen new officers and cost $2.7 million per year. However, because it would take a year to hire and train the officers, overtime costs would put the first year’s budget at $3.1 million. Those costs are separate from the need to address what the memo calls “inadequate lighting along most of the trails.”
A trip to the neighborhood park means bonding time for local mom Darcy Nuffer and her 8-month-old.
"We try to come pretty regularly a couple times a week," said Nuffer. "For safety it does seem like there needs to be some kind of lighting on the trail."
She says cyclists and jogger use it all hours. “It (safety) seems okay as long as they're policing it properly," said Nuffer.
"We have had some sexual assaults in the past, and those are the things that are really concerning to us,” said Raul Munguia, Austin Police Assistant Chief Region 1, when speaking about trail safety as a whole.
Assistant Chief Munguia credits the curfew with curbing crime near Austin’s hike and bike trails and says they’re safe. But in general, when the sun goes down, he says those using the trail still need to put their guard up.
“Depending on if someone's coming, say for example down here you have the trees and right along the edge of the bushes,” said Asst. Chief Munguia, when pointing out potential hiding spots for criminals along the Lady Bird Lake trail. “This looks pretty harmless during the day, but at night if you don't have a well-lit area, they could be behind the bushes. It doesn't take much to conceal someone."
Munguia says little to no lighting also makes it harder for officers to spot criminals and victims. He says officers are still concerned about robberies and break-ins and have ramped up patrol in the last year and plan to continue to do so this year.
"They're looking for that easy target," said Asst. Chief Munguia. "Don't come out here alone. The larger the group, the better off you are.”
Another common mistake officers see: "Make sure you know some key landmarks of where you are cause if you need the police, you're gonna have to tell them where you are."
Asst. Chief Munguia also says even though it can be a hassle, he strongly recommends bringing your cell phone, not just to protect yourself, but also if you see someone in trouble.
Neither APD nor the Parks Department wanted to comment on the specifics of Council’s proposal until after the vote.
By Adam Bennett