‘All hands on deck kind of mentality’: APD says 2023 SXSW first without shots fired since 2012

Kylee Howard, Senior News Reporter

Every year, city officials navigate public safety challenges presented by the South By Southwest festival, from gun and drug seizures to shots fired. However, an Austin Police Department official said this year’s fully in-person festival was the first with no ‘shots fired’ calls since 2012.

“Every year we work with City of Austin’s emergency responders who are vigilant about monitoring potential public safety threats year-round,” a SXSW spokesperson said in an email. “We collaborate with local, state and federal authorities to share information and refine emergency response plans and procedures.” 

APD seized 61 firearms and made 131 arrests during the festival from March 8-18, according to their press release. They also seized the following narcotics: 3.5 kg of cocaine, 26.6 kg of methamphetamine, 0.04 kg of fentanyl/heroin and 98 lbs of marijuana.

The festival, taking place in downtown Austin, draws large crowds from across the nation and has seen various shootings and violent crimes in the past. The absence of gun violence comes while APD operates with almost 300 officer vacancies.

“Every year it gets better,” assistant police chief Jeff Greenwalt said. “We refine things that work well and we fix things that don’t.” 

SXSW volunteer Joshua Rush said he did not witness any violent activity and believes APD acted with extra caution due to the event’s history. 

“I feel like since there’s a whole bunch of foot traffic … they just wanted to be as cautious as possible,” journalism freshman Rush said. 

Greenwalt said the general uptick in overdoses in the city motivated APD to increase safety measures and monitoring, with the amount of methamphetamine and cocaine seized during SXSW increasing from last year.

Greenwalt said APD dispatched a special response unit and organized crime divisions along with their officers to patrol in and around downtown during the festival. He said officers acted as deterrents and made arrests before a situation could escalate.

”What you see in this instance is this all hands on deck kind of mentality where we have backfill detectives supplementing patrol, and patrol still out there doing what they need to do and everybody else downtown for South by Southwest,” Greenwalt said.