Crimewatch: New Bike Patrol for the Drag - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: New Bike Patrol for the Drag

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Austin Police just started a new bike patrol for the Drag and the West Campus area.

The initiative launched after complaints of aggressive panhandling on the popular Guadalupe Street right across from the University of Texas campus.

In particular, there were problems reported near 23rd Street behind the Renaissance Market where vendors sell jewelry.

Morgan Wertz, 28, is homeless by choice.

"Got fired from my job and I talked to a couple of kids that were leaving town to go travel and I just decided to go with them,” Wertz said.

She is one of the homeless who gather in front of the Congregation Church of Austin on 23rd Street. FOX 7 spoke to her to get a better understanding of what goes on in the area.

"It's a good place for them to get food and water."

Some have pets, like Chavez, the camera hating Chihuahua. An outside water spigot makes this a popular hang out for dogs and their homeless owners. Wertz even has her own filter.

"I got a Brita filter a couple of weeks ago,” Wertz said. "Thank God it's there. A lot of stores aren't very nice about giving us water."

When it comes to panhandling, the 28-year-old says she's not pushy about it.

Police say they have heard otherwise and have received several complaints about aggressive panhandlers from area businesses.

One jewelry vendor at the Renaissance Artists' market says he has been threatened. He was too scared to be on camera but told FOX 7 he was glad police are in the area.

Officer Ryan Watkins is one of the officers on the new bike patrol.

"We've gotten a lot of complaints of disturbances, unfortunately, its picked up recently,” Watkins said.

"We've gotten a lot of disturbances where they're saying the merchants have asked the transients to leave them alone when they're trying to conduct business and that person will get angry with them and end up threatening them, threaten some sort of retaliation against them."

Officer Norman Bujanos also volunteered on the new bike patrol.

"They're harassing the tourists for donations and just panhandling, being real aggressive about it and it was killing the business for the merchants as well,” Bujanos said.

They were also harassing students like Hannah Puckett.

“[They are] asking for change or to bum a cigarette, it's annoying and I always say no,” Puckett said.

Officers started patrolling on bikes along Guadalupe Street and the West Campus area the end of June and early July.

They say the hang out by the water spigot has gotten out of hand. Police say each homeless person has a bag or two, perhaps a dog, and the crowd can get out of control.

They issue warnings and even citations per the city's downtown sit or lie ordinance. It covers this area as well. Police say it's a difficult ordinance to enforce.

"You have to warn them first,” Sgt. Chris Gwaldo explained. “Typically when you warn them, you come back and an hour later, they may be gone in another part of town or its just different people that are here 30 minutes later that you have to give them the same warning."

One option police and community members came up with is for area churches to take turns every week giving out free water.

Wertz said the aggressive panhandlers have drug or alcohol problems. That's why her group asks those homeless to leave.

"A lot of people give us a bad name, like there's certain bad apples in every group,” Wertz said. "If people are making us look bad, we tell them to leave."

Police hope aggressive panhandling will go away as well. They hope their presence on bikes and in cars, will make a difference.

Follow Jenni Lee on Twitter@jennileeaustin.
 

 

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