Increased police presence requested in West Campus areas

David Maly

When 23-year-old transient Waylon Barnes asked another homeless man on the drag to be nicer to a group of pedestrians, he said he never could have imagined he would get stabbed.

The man stabbed Barnes in the back with a steak knife earlier this month and is in jail. Even though Barnes has recovered, he said the transient crime problem in West Campus is far from over, as this incident is just one example of the transient violence that has plagued the area for years. Although police have recently increased their presence in the area and violence has decreased, Barnes and a group of area business owners have taken a stand, advocating for a new policy that would decrease transient violence in the area even more and make it a more permanent change.

Submitted to Austin City Council Aug. 23, the proposal is titled APD Good Behavior Maintenance Policy of the Vagrant Population. It calls for a mandated seven-day-a-week police bicycle patrol dedicated to the area that would run during the day in addition to APD’s current evening and night patrols. The City Council has not taken any action on it.
Austin Police Department crime statistics show a 57.14 percent drop in violent crime for the Central West area, which includes West Campus, this past August compared to August of last year. The statistic includes a decrease from seven to three violent crime incidents.

Barnes said he was standing near the Church of Scientology at West 22nd and Guadalupe streets Sept. 3 when he noticed a homeless man harassing a group of people walking by. In previous reports, APD said the incident occurred in front of the University Co-op.

“He was talking about beating them up and robbing them,” Barnes said. “He was even talking in a fake Asian accent to make fun of them.”

Barnes said he simply could not bear to watch and decided to give the man some advice.

“I just went up to him and was like, ‘That’s not the way we are going to make any money, by you disrespecting them,’” Barnes said. “So I was like, ‘OK, whatever, I said my piece,’ and I turned around to walk away, and by the time I even got into the middle of the street, I felt it. Wham.”

Jennie Bennett, who is part of the group of business owners supporting the proposal, has owned a jewelry stand in the 23rd Street Renaissance Market since 1996. The market is at the intersection of West 23rd and Guadalupe streets next to the University Co-op.

Bennett and other artisans began advocating two years ago to have an increased police presence put in place around the Renaissance Market and its surrounding West Campus area. With the appointment of APD Officer Gary Griffin as District 1 Representative, which includes West Campus, earlier this summer, Bennett said she has seen their concerns taken seriously for the first time.

Griffin was once fired from the force and sued for beating up a mentally ill man at a bus stop.

In June APD Sgt. Alfred Trejo said Griffin tripled the police presence in the area, which he called a much-needed improvement.

Still, Bennett said the fight to clean up area crime is not over because more officers are still needed and a measure needs to be put in place to make the increased police presence more permanent.

Trejo said Bennett’s requests are legitimate, but the issue with meeting them for APD is a lack of available resources.

“We are kind of operating on a lean budget,” he said. “They want a permanent presence on the Drag there, with a separate set of bike officers, but we just don’t have the people to do it.”

Bennett said she understands APD’s position, which is why she has taken her plea to the Austin City Council, the organization that sets the budget for the city.

“It was time to take it to the next step,” she said.