AUSTIN, Texas -- South by Southwest Film and Interactive kick off Friday morning, which--along with Film next week--will bring more than 300,000 visitors to downtown Austin.
The conference is now in its 31st year, and law enforcement says the biggest lesson they've learned is to start early. Austin Police Department and Austin-Travis County EMS say the biggest issues come with the massive music crowd next week, so they'll ramp up EMS crews and police teams Tuesday. In the past, they waited until Thursday.
APD will use voluntary overtime to help keep the peace and safety around Downtown Austin the next 10 days. They'll help the Special Operations Team.
"It's just a group of 120 officers who are trained and responsible for crowd management," Asst. Chief Justin Newsom said. "We are at marches and protests throughout the year and big events like this on Sixth Street. Everyone on that team is trained, and it is organized and equipped for everything from a large crowd milling about to a full scale riot."
Statistics compiled by Krimelabb show statistics show the influx of visitors brings crime.
"We see several types of crime spike in March: DWIs, auto theft, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of marijuana," said Cary Roberts of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, a group that has advocated tirelessly for more officers the past three years.
Studies conducted on behalf of the city by three different consultants found Austin needs at least 300 more to just to handle day-to-day calls outside of SXSW. As costs have ballooned in recent years for APD, the department tried avoiding overtime by transferring detectives to the conference and festival. However, that created backlogs in their daily tasks. As a result, APD is opting this year to pay officers overtime.
"Overtime solves part of the problem for special events," Roberts said. "It also concentrates the force downtown during March, and other parts of the city have fewer resources."
Drivers, beware of lots of pedestrians around the Convention Center for the next 10 days. AAA Texas encourages drivers to be patient and festival goers to consider all their transportation options.
"Have a plan. Make sure that you put a cab or a ridesharing service in your phone before you have that first drink," AAA's Daniel Armbruster said.
Dozens of road closures are in effect to accommodate the crowds.