Criminal JusticeLocal NewsAustin Street Racing Shenanigans Light Fire Under Police Contract Debate

APD said that two individuals were detained in connection with the street races.
February 21, 2023
Street racers took over a few intersections on Austin roads last weekend, and the fallout has dredged up a proxy fight over the city’s ongoing police contract stalemate.

On Saturday night, videos circulated on social media depicting street racers and a subsequent crowd blocking intersections on Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard, two busy and prominent roads in the heart of downtown. They showed vehicles doing donuts in intersections as onlookers filmed, threw fireworks, and confronted police; some individuals were set ablaze on accident as a truck drove through flames on the street.

One scene shows an Austin Police Department (APD) vehicle slowly backing away from an approaching crowd. The incidents expanded throughout the city.

In a Sunday statement, APD said, “During these incidents, the crowd threw rocks and bottles and pointed lasers at officers. One officer sustained a non-life-threatening injury, was treated at a local hospital, and was released.”

Rocks and bottles were thrown at patrol vehicles causing damage. Two people were arrested for evading arrest. The investigation into this incident continues, and further charges may be filed.”

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The Travis County Sheriff’s Office also had two vehicles damaged during the events.

APD Chief Joseph Chacon said in a Thursday afternoon press conference that four other individuals had been arrested in connection with the events. Between the four individuals, there are eight felony charges and one misdemeanor; the charges include aggravated assault, unlawful carrying of a firearm by a felon, and delivery of a controlled substance.

He said that the department had received a tip on February 17 about a “street takeover” event coming to Austin, but could not verify the tip.

The incidents turned out to be part of a coordinated event called the “Lonestar Show,” which sparked another front of the public safety fight between the city and the police union over the expiring labor contract.

An unnamed co-host of the event told FOX 7, “It has nothing to do with politics. It’s got nothing to do with race. It’s got nothing to do with any sort of city leader, city policy, anything like that. All that it has to do with is we just wanted to go out and have some fun.”

Adding that the event will return to Austin, the man said, “You have all these resources and you’re telling me you only caught two people. Now that’s what the community should be upset about. They should be upset that they’re wasting time, wasting valuable money and resources that could be allocated elsewhere.”

Last week, tensions between the city council and Austin Police Association (APA) boiled over after the council voted to spurn a handshake agreement on a four-year labor contract in favor of a one-year extension of the current contract, which expires on March 31, and rebooted negotiations. Most of the council voted that way in deference to voters on two ballot initiatives coming in May.

The APA declined that invite.

Austin policy makers are directly responsible for the overall safety of their citizens [and] visitors,” the APA said on Twitter when the videos circulated. “Looks like they failed to make the right decisions & continue to defund, destroy, [and] demoralize public safety. Austin was one of the safest cities, NOT anymore.”

Just before he was fired for alleged mismanagement after the recent ice storm-caused power outages, former City Manager Spencer Cronk announced a four-year contract agreement in principle with the APA. The negotiations had been going on for almost a year, centered on pay and the role of the Office of Police Oversight.

The stalemate puts the city on course for “straight-143,” the term used to describe Sec. 143 of the Texas Local Government Code that lays out employment protections for police officers in lieu of a collectively bargained agreement between the union and the city.

Countering the APA’s comment, Mayor Kirk Watson said, “The Austin Police Association posted some false comments on Sunday that appeared to wrongly conflate this illegal incident with important community conversations about safety and oversight.”

Twitter is not an appropriate forum for contract negotiations,” Watson added in the statement, also posted to Twitter, “and no Austinite should ever accept the false choice between public safety and responsible policing — Austin can, and will, have both.”

Watson then stated that this week the council will consider an ordinance that ensures “wages, benefits and payout of sick leave hours” would continue unabated even if March 31 passes with no resolution.

On the street racing, Watson said, “The dramatic videos have gone viral and made some folks Internet famous but, for me, the bigger issue is the significant wait times for 911 calls.”

Our 911 call center received four times the normal number of 911 calls during the incident on Saturday night and that led to unacceptably long waits.”

The city’s emergency services have struggled with long 911 call wait times over the last couple of years. One year ago, the department’s wait times lingered at eight minutes for the most time-sensitive emergency calls, a problem attributed to the staffing struggles and attrition roiling APD. Chacon said Thursday afternoon that the longest call wait time was 27 minutes, caused by only having 12 call takers compared with 16 on a typical Saturday night. During the evening, the call center fielded hundreds of calls compared with its typical dozens on a Saturday night.

APD’s staffing level is about 400 short of its 2019 level — about one-third of which is due to the 2020 budget cut and redirection that eliminated 150 authorized positions. Members of the department and union warn that without the four-year agreement, many current officers close to retirement will buy forward their time to meet the required age and retire. Others, they say, will cut bait and go elsewhere — especially if the first of the two ballot propositions passes.

Last session, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting the “defunding” of police departments in direct response to the City of Austin’s action in 2020. As more events unfold in the state’s capital city, it becomes increasingly likely the Legislature wades into the public safety fight again.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with Chief Chacon’s comments from the Thursday press conference.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.