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Police: Sex Increasing at Austin Park
Sex and drugs on the rise in a popular park, just yards from a bus stop and preschool. It’s the same area where a former state child psychiatrist was arrested for lewd conduct last week.
"You don't want your kids running around and playing when there are drugs and condoms on the grass," said Marnie Fitzgerald, a mother of three young girls who lives near the park and wooded area near Rollingwood and Mopac.
Battling sex and drugs in her neighborhood park is a never-ending battle.
"I find it disgusting and disturbing," said Fitzgerald.
Police say the number of men looking for men to have sex with in and around the park is on the increase, part of an off and on problem since the 80s. And it’s not just illicit sex.
When asked how police stay ahead of the problem, Chief Dayne Pryor of the Rollingwood Police Department replied, “You gotta get down in there (the woods near the park) and start walking.”
Patrolling the area this morning, Chief Pryor found plenty of signs of what he called illegal activity.
"They monitor us and will report our patterns," said Chief Pryor about websites dedicated to the activity. "Some of the sites have even mentioned specific officers by name."
Now Austin police are helping. In the last month, Sgt. Richard Guajardo of APD’s Park Division said they’ve increased patrols and staged two plainclothes operations. But with fewer than ten officers and nearly 200 parks to patrol, Sgt. Guajardo worries the city’s newest proposal to open the nearby Lady Bird Lake bike trails 24 hours a day could bring attract more criminals to the area and make the situation worse.
"Having more police officers out here patrolling during those hours will help and prevent those types of crimes,” said Sgt. Guajardo.
Council Member Chris Riley supports the expansion of trail hours and cautions details are still being decided regarding public safety. In the end, he promises the city will provide a plan that will provide enough protection or the proposal will go back to the drawing board.
Sgt. Guajardo told us APD has plans for a sting and have considered surveillance cameras. Residents told us beyond police activity, they’d also like to see more “positive uses” for the park, like events and group exercise classes for example, they hope would keep the criminal element away.