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Public Safety joins parks board effort to study crime in city parks

Thursday, September 15, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

At its special called meeting Tuesday, the Public Safety Commission unanimously voted to send one of its members to a Parks and Recreation Board working group studying crime in city parks and tasked with coming up with recommendations for City Council.

The call from the parks board is preceded by a memo PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley sent to members at the end of May to address questions about crime in parks and data tracking. APD has a new public portal that specifically collects data about crimes reported within 50 feet of a park address.

Property crime is the most reported type of offense at Austin parks. According to the memo, in the last fiscal year, there were 1,092 property crimes reported on or within 50 feet of parkland. At the time of the memo’s writing in May, 619 property crimes had been reported. The report also notes that Zilker Metropolitan Park leads all parks in property crimes, with Mount Bonnell coming in second.

McNeeley wrote in the memo that APD is responsible for enforcing the law in parks, particularly since “in 2020, APD dissolved the Parks Police Unit and shifted all park specific officers to the general patrol to meet city-wide officer needs.”

At the parks board’s June 27 meeting, Chair Laura Cottam Sajbel referenced the memo, as well as a May presentation from the board’s off-leash dog working group. The group was established after complaints about unleashed dogs chasing strollers and people, causing bike accidents and fighting with other dogs. There are also reports of the park rangers who replaced the old park police unit facing aggressive resistance when attempting to enforce leash laws and other laws.

“I think we’ve heard from people who are continuing to deal with issues in the parks whether it’s off-leash dogs, vandalism, dangerous behavior, a lot of theft,” said Board Member Dawn Lewis, who was selected to chair the parks board working group. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to do anything we can to make sure our parks are safe and welcoming.”

The APD portal is updated monthly and shows crime data specific to parks. The data can be filtered by park or by offense type.

The Public Safety Commission voted unanimously to approve a motion naming Kathleen Hausenfluck, Mayor Steve Adler’s appointee to the commission, to the group. The motion passed after Hausenfluck volunteered and no other commissioners voiced interest in joining the working group. Commissioner Nelly Paulina Ramirez thanked Hausenfluck for volunteering, and said she has met with members of the parks board to discuss the subject and would confer with Hausenfluck to bring her up to speed.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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