Let’s begin with an update on last week’s column where we talked about Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza and County Attorney Delia Garza each sending letters to Interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacón charging that some “rogue” Austin Police Department (APD) officers are refusing to investigate crimes, particularly property crimes. The letters also maintained that the “rogue” officers are falsely telling citizens that they aren’t investigating because the DA and County Attorney’s office won’t file charges in such cases.
That coincided with earlier stories by KXAN and the Austin Bulldog which raised questions about whether APD is investigating property crimes. For instance KXAN reported that an APD Lieutenant told them that an officer has to catch someone in the act in order to file charges. And, this was on a case where a business had video footage of a person smashing windows in a company truck and then running towards a nearby, visible on the video, homeless encampment.
So the Independent sent a list of questions to Interim Chief Chacón. They were as follows:
- Does APD have a policy or practice that police themselves have to catch someone in the act of a property crime — for instance stealing a bicycle or busting out the window in a vehicle — for that person to be arrested?
- If the answer is yes, then my follow-up is: is this a department policy or practice, a law that APD is following, or what?
- If it is an APD policy, when did this policy originate and why?
- If it is not an APD policy or practice for police to have to catch people in the act to take action, then how do you explain the KXAN report of July 2 in which local business owners say that APD officers told them that they cannot do anything about repeated vandalism to their business unless police themselves catch the perpetrators in the act?
- In the above instance the business had the incident very clearly on video? So, from what this officer or officers told the business people, it would seem that catching someone on video committing a crime would not count as catching them in the act. Is that the case?
Chief Chacón sent my inquiry to APD PIO who responded with the following.
“The men and women of the Austin Police Department (APD) work hard each day to keep the Austin community safe. We continue to work with the Travis County Attorney and District Attorney’s Office to ensure Austin remains one of the safest cities. Our messaging to department personnel through internal communication and daily briefings, clearly and consistently directs officers to continue enforcing the law and follow all COA/APD policies. If there is an allegation that an officer has violated policy, we will investigate the matter, and hold the officer accountable, as appropriate.”
Clearly that does not answer all my questions and certainly not the core one of whether APD has a policy that a person committing a property crime has to be caught in the act. On the other hand the statement does say officers are instructed to enforce the law and that if an officer violates policy they will be held accountable.
Bottom line is that it seems more and more like there might be something to the charges that the DA and the County Attorney are making. Stay tuned.
Still Another Climate Warning
On other matters, since the news has been particularly grim lately and since it’s summer, I tried hard to find some happy items this week. That proved difficult. So I decided to switch gears and feature this story from the Washington Post instead. The headline reads: “’Code red’: UN scientists warn of worsening global warming.” This was a story on the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is traditionally a rather cautious scientific group when it comes to climate change predictions.
Here’s one summary the Post provided of the IPCC report: “Monday’s sprawling assessment states that there is no remaining scientific doubt that humans are fueling climate change. That much is ‘unequivocal.’ The only real uncertainty that remains, its authors say, is whether the world can muster the will to stave off a darker future than the one it already has carved in stone.”
In another summary paragraph, the Post offered, “Each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than any that preceded it, dating to 1850. Humans have warmed the climate at a rate unparalleled since before the fall of the Roman Empire. To find a time when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed this much this fast, you’d need to rewind 66 million years to the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.”
That might not cheer anybody up, but look at it as encouragement to have as good a time as you can right now; and please try to do so with only minimal damage to the planet. This news certainly solidifies my plans to take the rest of August for vacation after this week’s stories.
Meanwhile the Delta variant of the COVID 19 virus continues to pummel the Austin area and Texas in general. One of the most darkly weird things I’ve ever seen is how Governor Greg Abbott sits back and watches Texans suffer and die, including Republicans, because of his policies. He even seems to revel in it, with localities and schools forbidden by him to require mask wearing. It’s amazing to have lived to see Governors of states in the US openly defy the advice and dire warnings of health authorities. It’s also amazing how many people will follow the lead of Republicans like Abbott instead of health experts.
Some public authorities don’t have the luxury of just pandering to the far right for twisted reelection purposes. For instance school districts have the responsibility of protecting students and teachers as they return to classes in just a few weeks. And, this is as the Delta variant of the virus is hitting young people harder and harder — and kids under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine. Given all this both the Austin and Dallas school districts are defying Abbott and requiring mask wearing when kids head back to school. Also Bexar and Dallas Counties have mounted legal challenges to Abbott’s authority to forbid local authorities from requiring masks.
Let’s see how Abbott reacts to that. Will he really come down on school districts for taking widely recommended measures to protect their students? He just might.
The City of Austin made a trickier end around play regarding masks on Saturday. The City sent out emergency texts and voice mails saying the COVID situation in Austin is “dire” and urging people to wear masks. This was no exaggeration, as the Austin region continues to run dangerously low on ICU beds. For a while, the New York Times featured this push back strategy at the top of their home page.
Meanwhile an issue covered several times by the Independent, dating back to February is on the Council agenda with a new twist this time. That’s the City’s proposed purchase of the Candlewood Suites hotel in the Anderson Mill area of far northwest Austin as transitional housing for the homeless. A strong opposition effort has been led by Rupal Chaudhari whose family owns two adjacent hotels which share a driveway with the Candlewood Suites. Also, Freda’s Seafood Grille, run by Freda Cheng, sits very near the Candlewood Suite and would be affected by whatever goes next door. Cheung has allied with Chaudhari in resistance to the City plan.
The site is on the Wednesday August 11 Council agenda (which is a budget meeting) as an addendum and is not said to be for a domestic violence shelter. One might think that the opposition would see this as a victory and/or an acceptable use. Distrust, however, runs deep — resulting from an almost total lack of communication from the City to residents during this saga.
Chaudhari released a statement alerting neighbors of the latest, saying, “The lack of communication and due process from the City of Austin is alarming! With zero communication or heads-up to area residents, businesses, or organizations like Stop Candlewood, the city is now engaged in a bait-and-switch scheme to soften the blow of purchasing the Candlewood Suites.”
Chaudhari continued, “We’re not convinced the intention of this agenda item is to build a domestic violence shelter. This out-of-the-blue proposal includes ‘related social services,’ which could mean anything, even though the words ‘permanent supportive housing’ no longer appear. With no concrete details and little time to research this, we therefore remain firmly opposed to the purchase.”
This one is on the Council agenda Thursday. So we will report the results later.
The Return of Watson?
Meanwhile, the American-Statesman broke the news Monday that former Mayor and former State Senator Kirk Watson (pictured at top) is considering a run to be Mayor again. He served from 1997 to 2001. If he decides to do it, Watson would make a very formidable candidate. The most likely argument against him would be that Austin doesn’t want to go back to the past. That would probably only go so far, however. Many Austinites might cherish a style of governance from an earlier era after the chaos of the Adler-Casar-Delia Garza led years.
Watson told the Statesman that a lot of people are encouraging him to run. He added, “Austin is going to need leadership in the mayor’s office with a proven ability to get things done and the demonstrated skill at bringing about transformational change. I’m pleased and happy that so many folks think I have those skills and are wanting to see me run for mayor.”
Some observers saw the comment about “a proven ability to get things done and the demonstrated skill at bringing about transformational change,” as a dig at current Mayor Steve Adler. I saw it differently. Clearly Adler has experience at “transformational change.” His just goes in the wrong direction.
Council Member Kathie Tovo also expressed interest in running in the same article. Council Member Ann Kitchen is widely perceived to also want the job. Both are strong Council Members and Tovo in particular is very popular and respected in the central city. The view here is that it will be difficult for any member of the current Council to win the Mayor’s job. That would particularly be the case if there was a strong candidate like Watson.
That said, another potential candidate is Council Member Greg Casar. A Casar vs Watson contest would most clearly define the race as a battle of different eras of governance, but let’s not jump too far ahead. There’s a lot of time to go. Watson hasn’t decided yet, and the Mayor’s race will almost certainly be crowded. So stay tuned.
The Independent still has two installments in our Homicides series — talk about cheerful topics — but, this is the last True Stories before our vacation. So see you after Labor Day.
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