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Austin Police Are Getting Tough On Downtown Crime
Austin Police are getting tough on downtown crime. In 2013 the police department is dedicating more resources to curbing violence and aggression on Austin's downtown streets.
APD gave KEYE TV exclusive access to the first undercover sting of the year targeting aggressive panhandling.
Panhandling itself is not a crime in Austin. But it is illegal to do it near an ATM, financial institution or within 25 feet of a cross walk; that's considered aggressive panhandling.
"We dont' want someone going to an ATM and feeling uncomfortable or feeling threatened," explained Commander Jason Dusterhoft. "We don't want it near a crosswalk where people are trying to pay attention to traffic."
It's a petty crime, but police have no tolerance for aggressive panhandling.
"It really is a nuisance. It's a nuisance crime we get contacted about on a regular basis. It's one of those things where people want to be able to walk down the street, go get something to eat, without being hassled for money," explained an APD bike patrol officer on the sting operation.
Two undercover officers and two bike patrol officers spent the lunch hour ticketing those who aggressively panhandle. Officers say they're trying to identify those displaying the most aggressive behavior.
Our cameras captured one man who asked undercover officers for cigarettes and a dollar near an ATM. Police gave him a citation and let him go. A few minutes later, police say he again asked for money and cigarettes near an ATM; this time, he was arrested. As police put the handcuffs on the suspect, he slammed his head against the wall, cursed at officers and asked not to go to jail.
"You saw how once we placed him under arrest that he became aggressive in his demeanor," said one of the arresting officers.
"One of the things we're not going to tolerate is people out here making other citizens feel in fear, that's what we don't want down here," said Dusterhoft. "If you go after the worst offenders, you're going to cut down the people that are the most aggressive."
In most cases, police just issue a ticket and a little education to those illegally panhandling. But in the New Year, APD says it's dedicating more resources, and doing more stings, to curb the violence and aggression downtown.
As for giving tickets to someone begging for money, police say the fines can be paid with community service and the tickets are always away to target the people who might need community support services.