Chief supports stiffer penalties
We can’t sit back.”
Acevedo announced the department will conduct a DWI “no-refusal” initiative from 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. Under the no-refusal requirements, officers can obtain blood search warrants on people who refuse to give a breath or blood sample as required by law.
At least 32 of this year’s traffic deaths, or more than one-third, have been alcohol related, police said. They are still waiting for toxicology results to determine if 13 other cases also were.
Acevedo said his department will look at devoting additional overtime dollars next year to dedicate more officers solely to traffic enforcement, thereby boosting area patrols. Also, tickets, rather than warnings, will be more commonplace.
“One of the things we are telling our officers is the nice guy giving warnings is not working,” he said. “They should issue that citation. People are just not getting it. What changes behavior is that ticket.”
Acevedo said he’ll support efforts to boost stiffer driver negligence penalties through local courts as well as new legislation when state lawmakers convene in January.
For example, Acevedo and District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg are due to meet next month to address stiffer penalties for deadly negligence, as in cases of failure to stop and render aid.
Also in January, Acevedo said, Austin police officials will gather with their counterparts in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties for a Central Texas “traffic summit” in a joint effort to fight traffic deaths. Such an approach could lead to joint task forces to oversee and launch traffic safety efforts, he said.
“We are all doing more with less, so we need to bring that synergy together and come up with some multijurisdictional task forces,” he said. “It’s all something we have to take ownership of.”
Acevedo said his department also will likely reinstitute many of the traffic safety initiatives used this summer.
In June, police launched a three-pronged attack to slow the alarming rate of deadly encounters on Austin roads: undertaking a zero-tolerance pedestrian safety program, boosting patrols on Sunday nights — when one of every four traffic fatalities had occurred — and realigning police resources to highrisk areas.
For example, Operation Summer Sundays resulted in 500 traffic stops, 92 drunken driving arrests and zero traffic fatalities during the three-month period it was enforced, police said.
By September, police had lauded a decline in the rate of traffic fatalities, reducing earlier 2012 projections that the city would see 80 roadway deaths down to 74. However, the pace soared again by October, bringing the year’s total to 77 as of Thursday.
That’s up from 53 such deaths seen at this time last year, a 45 percent increase.
Officials in June also predicted a record 36 fatal auto-pedestrian crashes in 2012, but officials later said the summer initiatives had worked and were projecting 31 autopedestrian deaths.
With four days left in the year, Austin has seen 28 auto-pedestrian fatalities, still marking the deadliest year on record for pedestrians and cyclists.
“Every single one (of these crashes) is preventable, and they are all caused by people making poor choices,” Acevedo said.
A memorial honors Jeremy Barta at the entrance to the property where he used to live. He was killed April 30 when a MetroRail train hit his car as he was pulling out of his driveway.