Increased police presence attempts to counteract high crime rates during SXSW

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Austin Police Department officers patrol during South By Southwest 2014. In an attempt to combat increased crime during SXSW, APD increases its officer presence downtown by about ten percent.
Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

South By Southwest draws a huge influx of people to Austin each year, but the Austin Police Department also sees an increase in crime during this week of interactive, film and music events.

According to APD reports, crime in downtown Austin increased nearly 50 percent during March 2015 compared to the monthly average. Misdemeanors and felonies related to alcohol and violence specifically increased during the week of the festival last year. Tim Pruett, commander of special events for APD, said crime rates for this year’s festival seemed to be similar to the 2015 record. 

In 2015, a total of 146 arrests took place downtown during the festival between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. each night, according to police reports. Pruett said theft, public intoxication and assault are the most frequently occurring crimes during the festival.

“We have some DWIs, but the majority of [the arrests] are people getting intoxicated and causing disturbances or fights,” Pruett said. “This is normal for a weekend downtown, but it’s more prevalent during the South By event.”

Pruett said the above-average number of people downtown, excessive alcohol consumption and the increased opportunity for crime are all contributing factors to the rise in crime during SXSW. Pruett recommended festival goers be aware of their surroundings and limit their alcohol intake to avoid a possible theft or offense.

UT Police Department Officer William Pieper said another concern for students during SXSW is residence burglary. While he said the incidents are not always directly related to the event, the high rate of people leaving for the week because of spring break increases the chances that someone will commit a property crime.

“Anytime you have a designated period when you know students won’t be there, it makes it a prime opportunity to commit burglaries and thefts,” Pieper said. “Several different years in the past, there have been reports of somebody entering apartments or houses illegally and residing there during the week.”

Pruett said the department tries to combat the rise in crime with an approximated ten percent increase in officers downtown during SXSW week.

“When we have extra officers downtown and in and around the festival, then the greatest deterrent against crime is an officer’s presence,” Pruett said. “We’re hoping that adding extra officers downtown and being visible in and around the event will reduce crime in the area.”

Pruett said a team of officers patrols the area from Sixth Street to Lamar Boulevard, which usually attracts large crowds during the festival. He said coordination with other departments such as the fire and transportation departments also helps facilitate the large number of people throughout the week.

Biochemistry junior Sailee Yadav said she prepared for SXSW this year by packing lightly, bringing a cross-body purse that she could easily keep track of and having pepper spray with her as a potential defensive tool.

“I think you inherently get more cautious during festival periods like South By Southwest because you know there is an influx of people from all over the world coming to this central location,” Yadav said. “I think the best thing we can do is to be aware of our surroundings and not venture into unnecessary hazards, even if that means slightly altering our routines for this one week.”