AUSTIN (KXAN) — People are already gearing up for South by Southwest, which is just two months away. More officers will be on patrol this year, a move that is partly in response to a crash on Red River Street last year that left four people dead after a car plowed into a crowd of spectators. Sixty more officers will be working downtown this year, and an additional 120 officers will make up a response team for crowd control near the end of the festival.
But the new Austin Police Association President says Austin police officers are taking a beating when it comes to morale. The decision to move officers from their regular departments and into patrol positions for the nine-day festival is only making matters worse, Ken Casady added. Coupled with protests against police across the country and the killings of two New York City police officers, Casady says this has been an especially tough time to take over a police union.
“We’ve had officers coming in here over the last couple of weeks that are looking at possibly leaving the department and going on to a different career; they just don’t feel supported,” he added. “Morale is very low right now, considering the circumstances going on all over the country … Add that onto low staffing levels here on patrol, and that just leads to unhappy cops.”
Then, there are the extra officers who will be pulled from their regular units to work South by Southwest.
“People will be taken out of those units to work downtown to make a private entity money, and we don’t agree with that,” said Casady.
While Casady talks about low morale within the Austin Police Department, a statement from the department Wednesday said those feelings are “based on the larger national issues and not issues within our community.” APD says the department is still successfully recruiting and retaining new officers.
Casady admits he is encouraged by the change in city leadership.
“We have a brand new city council and a brand new mayor, and we expect a lot out of them — like they do us — and we just expect their support when we need it the most,” he said.
Casady says there are plans to reach out to the city council and local organizations, like the NAACP, to improve morale by continuing to improve the relationships between the police department and the community.