Travis County Jail

Austin’s current booking facility, the Blackwell-Thurman Justice Center, is located downtown in the Travis County Justice Complex. The Austin Police Department has proposed plans to build a new booking center in North Austin.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Police Department has proposed plans for a new booking facility near Cameron Road that could save the city money and simplify the current booking process.

Brian Manley, Austin Police assistant chief, said citizens arrested in North Austin for minor offenses would go to the center for booking and processing, also known as magistration, and then either post bail or go to jail. Manley said serious offenders would still go to the Travis County Jail for long-term holding. 

“[Magistration] requires that a person arrested by a police officer is brought before a judge for the initial hearing, and it has to be done without delay,” Manley said. “In other words, within 48 hours, you have to either magistrate or release somebody, [so] this is an opportunity for a model that will free up officers’ time.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo initially proposed the new booking center at a meeting of the Austin City Council on Aug. 28. At the meeting, Acevedo said his officers spend an average of 58 minutes booking suspects at the Travis County Jail, and APD could eventually achieve a collective gain of 50,000 patrol hours per year by running its own magistration facility.

Acevedo said APD plans to renovate an existing building owned by the city for the new center. According to APD’s estimates, after 11 years of running the center, the city would save about $15 million, helping reduce the amount the city pays for officer overtime and to use the jail.

The facility is expected to cost $5.6 million and take 12-18 months to build. Members of the City Council raised concerns about where funding for the center would come from and whether the facility would fulfill the benefits proposed by APD.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD will follow its usual protocol when students are arrested. The closest booking facility to the University is currently at Travis County Jail.

“We will continue to conduct business as usual unless Travis County requests we do something different,” Posey said.

Manley said the new booking center would help increase efficiency and allow more officers to spend time on patrol.  

“We believe that we will see some budget savings, budgetary savings to the taxpayer and officer morale will be greatly increased,” Manley said. “The sooner that we can book somebody, get them magistrated and book them into a location, the sooner we can get our officers back to responding to the calls for service from people of the city of Austin.”

According to Manley, since APD pays around $6 million per year to use the Travis County Jail, the new facility would help cut down on costs. 

Manley said the city is still exploring sources of funding for the center, although Council Member Mike Martinez suggested using interest from bond sales as one potential source of funding. 

APD plans to collect public input and further study the plan before presenting it to the City Council for a final vote, Manley said.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Gene Vela, the public affairs graduate student involved in an armed standoff with two Austin police officers Nov. 10, remains in custody at the Travis County Jail.

According to the Travis County Criminal Court docket, Vela faces eight charges, including two charges of unlawful carrying of a weapon, two charges of aggravated assault against a public servant and one charge of terroristic threat.

Austin police shot Vela in the torso after Vela aimed his handgun at two officers from the window of his apartment, according to the police affidavit.

Vela is set to appear in court twice in the next three weeks, with one hearing scheduled Friday and the other scheduled for April 14.

According to court records, Adam Reposa is listed as Vela’s defense attorney for the first hearing, but Reposa said he is no longer representing Vela. Edmund Milton Davis is listed as Vela’s defense attorney for the second hearing. 

Steve Brand, a prosecuting attorney for the District Attorney’s Office, said the attorney information on the court docket had probably not been updated yet.

Brand said he does not expect any major changes to the case as a result of tomorrow’s hearing.

“Nothing is going to happen … If the defense wants to file motions to suppress evidence or anything like that, they can,” Brand said. “But there’s nothing there right now.”

UTPD has seen a 95 percent increase in bike thefts in the past two months, but no bait bikes taken in the past month. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

James Otte, 56, is being held in the Travis County Jail after he was charged this weekend with theft of a University of Texas Police Department “bait bike,” a bike with a GPS tracker inside. UT police say a dwindling number of criminals are still falling for the bait bike sting.

UT police chief Robert Dahlstrom said since the bait bike program was initiated in February of 2011, it has been successful, but that success has recently declined.

“Over the last month, we have had more thefts and no bait bikes taken,” Dahlstrom said.

In October, UTPD received 39 bicycle theft reports, almost double the 20 bicycle thefts reported in September. UTPD has not received that many bicycle thefts reports in a single month in the past 10 years. The second-most bicycle thefts reported in a single month since 2000 came in January 2011, the month before the bait bike program began, when 36 bicycles were reported stolen.

Since the bait bike program began, there have been less than 20 bicycle thefts reported to UTPD each month, until the spike beginning in September. 

UTPD detective Roberto Gonzalez said roughly 50 people have been arrested by UTPD through the bait bike program since it started.

He said criminals are most likely wising up to the bait bike program.

“They are usually repeat offenders,” Gonzalez said. “That is what we found through our bait bike program. Many times you have career criminals that steal bikes or anything accessible.”

Gonzalez said while some instances of organized crime have shown up in the past, where stolen bicycles were taken to other cities in large quantities to be sold, that is not normally the case.

Most thieves steal the bicycles to sell somewhere in the area for quick cash, often to buy drugs, Gonzalez said.
“They are definitely being sold at pawn shops, flea markets and on Craigslist,” Gonzalez said.

He said the fact that the bicycles usually stay in the area doesn’t necessarily make it easier to track them down.

“The problem is they are still difficult to find,” Gonzalez said.

He said bicycles are a prime target for thieves, especially on a college campus, as they are often accessible and left unattended.

“The bikes are often left for an extended period of time, sometimes maybe even semesters at a time,” Gonzalez said. “They are open, accessible. That is why they are such an appealing target.”

He said the best way students can prevent bicycle theft is to properly secure their bicycles with two strong locks: one through the bike’s frame and another through its back wheel.

Gonzalez said students can also have their information engraved free of charge at UTPD, and they can register their bicycles with the University online.

By registering a bicycle with the University, students leave the serial number of their bicycle on record. Gonzalez said this can assist police and even students in identifying a stolen bicycle, as many bicycles tend to look the same.

Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: UTPD seeks enhanced bike safety