Is APD’s initiative targeting crime or the homeless? - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Is APD’s initiative targeting crime or the homeless?

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It's called the Public Order initiative and the objective is to target violent crime in downtown. Under the initiative, plain-clothed officers seek anyone committing a crime in the downtown area. Austin Police Commander, Jason Dusterhoft, says it is working.

"When you have that kind of drastic contrast where you have officers put in one to focus on one objective which is lowering crime truly works," said Dusterhoft.

According to statistics released to FOX 7 by Austin police individual robberies are down 100 percent when comparing month to date numbers from February 2012 to this past February. Police are crediting the public order initiative. However, some feel police are targeting the homeless.

"No we're going after the problem. This is anybody down here that does anything that is against the law. This is zero tolerance. That means a college kid. That means a mom and dad, someone that's homeless perhaps. That means anybody," said Dusterhoft. "We want everybody to come downtown and have a good time, but on the same token we're not going to allow people to urinate in public, we're not going to allow people to sleep where they shouldn't be sleeping. We're not going to allow people to assault people. We're not going to allow people to solicit things that they shouldn't be soliciting for."

One of the more recent arrests from the public order initiative is 33-year-old Ryan Heath Crawford. He's reportedly homeless and has been arrested by APD numerous times; the most recent for aggressive solicitation and threatening a police officer.

APD says Crawford approached and undercover officer at the corner of 6th and Brazos Street in an area where it is illegal to panhandle.

"He asked them for money. They arrested the subject. When the subject got in the van he became very aggressive," said Dusterhoft.

It's the second time APD has operated under the initiative. Dusterhoft says because it worked so well the first time...it was brought back.

APD says restarting the initiative had nothing to do with South by Southwest being right around the corner.

"We started this initiative several months ago and then we stopped it and we saw crime start going up again, so I think it's more of our due diligence that if we see crime going up and we have the resources, we need to use it in those areas," said Dusterhoft.

However, homeless advocates aren't buying that and question the timing.

"It's clearly a coincidence, but it's a coincidence that keeps occurring every time we have another event, whether it's South by Southwest or we have Formula 1 or whatever," said Richard Troxell with House the Homeless.

Troxell questions whether the initiative is really cracking down on violent crime.

"It's ludicrous to even suggest that there's even a connection between public solicitation and violent crime."

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