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City Council to consider memorial to APD officers

Thursday, February 4, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Austin City Council will consider a resolution today allowing the placement of memorials to fallen Austin Police Department (APD) officers, an effort known as the Austin Police Officer Memorial Project, at the site where the officers fell. If Council approves the resolution as expected, portions of the resolution will still be subject to review by the Planning Commission.


Some citizens, however, are concerned that the aesthetics of the project have received no public review.


According to Council documents, the memorials are “5 feet 4 inches tall, 20 inches wide and 6 inches thick and constructed of gray granite.” The plan that Council members will see calls for the eventual installation of 19 memorials in various locations across the city: Three memorials will be placed at the main police station, two will be placed in Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) rights of way, and 12 will be placed in Austin city rights of way. Some of these 12 memorials may also be placed on private property, pending landowner and neighborhood approval. Two more will be erected at a later date.


Rockdale Memorials plans to donate the markers.


Because some of the markers will be placed in Austin city rights of way, an action that would require the city manager’s office to amend the city code, the effort will have to go before the Planning Commission before being finally ratified by the Council. Thanks to a bill that passed the Texas Legislature in 2009, any memorials to peace officers can be built in TxDOT rights of way. As it stands, the city will spend no money on the project.


APD officer Jason Huskins, who called Rockdale Memorials after learning about his fallen colleagues while attending the police academy, started the Austin Police Department Memorial Project. According to a press release that accompanied the memorials’ unveiling this past November, “(t)his project was conceived as an effort to remind the citizens of Austin of the ultimate sacrifice made by Austin Police Officers in the name of public safety, security and well-being. The Memorials will contribute historical value and serve as a place for family and friends to remember their fallen Officers.”


Ann Graham, who served on Austin’s Art in Public Places panel for six years, says that though she hasn’t seen any of the proposed memorials, the agenda item raised a “red flag” for her. “I always look at things like this as if they are artwork,” she says. “There are many well intentioned memorials that people want to (erect) … (I’m concerned) with how you do that (in a way) that appropriately honors these individuals and their families.”


Graham went on to express her desire that the design of the memorial project be properly and publicly vetted. It is important, she said, that such projects are completed with “great thought and dialogue.” A spokesperson for AIPP said that the panel had not yet been involved with the memorials.


“I can certainly understand people’s inclination to be able to comment on art in our public spaces, and I think that is something we can consider moving forward,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, a co-sponsor of the resolution. “I think for this initial round of markers, we should honor all of the hard work this officer put in on his own time and accept this initial donation.” 


“Honestly,” he added, “never having to have the discussion about the aesthetics of these markers would be okay with me if that meant we didn’t lose any other officers in the line of duty. “

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