Austin, the capital city of Texas, is centrally located between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Austin has a population of 667,000 in the city limits and over 1 million in the metropolitan Austin area. The city covers a land area of 238 square miles and the Austin metropolitan area encompasses 2,705 square miles. Located within the city limits of Austin are two of a chain of seven lakes that comprise the Highland Lakes. The other five lakes are located to the north-west of the city. The University of Texas in Austin is the largest component of the University of Texas System and is home to over 50,000 students, 3,000 faculty and 18,000 staff members.


The Austin Police Department (APD) estimates that, in their jurisdiction, motorists who drink and drive are involved in approximately 50% of fatal collisions and an equal percentage of serious injury collisions2. The Austin Police also estimate that after 2 a.m., two out of every four motorists on the road are driving under the influence of alcohol. The estimated numbers of drinking drivers, and the high percentage of serious injury and fatality crashes, prompted the APD to take additional action to protect local citizens. The APD launched a trial anti-DWI task force in January 1998, followed by a permanent anti-DWI Enforcement Unit in August 1998.

In addition to public safety, these specialized anti-DWI enforcement teams helped to ad-dress a procedural problem within the Department. Prior to the creation of the dedicated unit, officers spent an inordinate amount of time, shown by early dispatch data to be between three and four hours, handling a DWI arrest. The result was that officers were out of service and off the roadways for much too long a period of time. Part of the time required to process a DWI arrest involved waiting for video facilities to become available at the police station. Having a specialized team dedicated to handling DWI suspects, implementing revamped procedures, and in-stalling video cameras in the specialized team’s patrol units streamlined the process, and allowed arresting officers to return to service more quickly.

The main goal of the Austin Police Department anti-DWI enforcement team was to in-crease public safety on the highways by detecting and removing more impaired drivers. This goal was to be fulfilled by meeting the following objectives:

  • Increase the number of arrests for DWI through the addition of this special enforcement unit.
  • Allow all APD officers to hand over suspected impaired drivers to the special enforcement officers for testing and processing, thereby reducing the amount of time required by all officers to process DWI suspects to allow officers more road time.
  • Provide additional equipment and support to assist in the reduction of the processing time.
  • Provide officers with tools to make their court appearances more effective, thus, theoretically, increasing the conviction rate and decreasing the officers’ time required to obtain a conviction.


In 2002 there were 1,198 sworn officers and 586 civilian employees working at the Austin Police Department. The APD, as with all large urban law enforcement agencies, is a police department ever evolving to meet the needs of the citizens.

In 1998, the Department decentralized its operations to create a neighborhood-based model of law enforcement. In this reorganization, the City of Austin was divided into six area commands (described in the Geographic Jurisdiction section below), with resources transferred to the neighborhood level to solve problems at their source. In September 2001, a seventh area command was added to focus on the downtown-central business district. Two additional sectors are to be added in late 2003.

Each area command is managed by a commander and staffed with its own patrol units, detectives, street response teams, motor units and civilian support staff. The theory is that de-centralizing operations and empowering area commanders with the resources to serve law enforcement needs at the neighborhood level enhance both the response to crime and the ability to prevent crime. Patrol officers have the opportunity to develop stronger ties to the community, communicate effectively with residents and businesses to prevent crime, and build a relationship of mutual respect and trust with the community they serve.

To provide a liaison between patrol officers and neighborhoods, the district representative (DR) program was implemented citywide in 1998. First tried as a pilot program in the Northeast Area Command, the DR program assigns a district representative, a sworn police officer, to tar-get specific districts within an area command. The DR officer develops close working relation-ships with citizen groups, neighborhood associations and businesses. When special problems arise within a district, the DR officer can focus on the problem and manage resources to best ad-dress the issue.

Geographic Jurisdiction

When this project began, there were six different APD command centers covering the city of Austin:

  • The Northwest Area Command is a large district that includes residential, business and industrial areas. Units of the Northwest Area Command include Patrol, Motorcycles, Support, Relief, Division Detectives, Street Response, and District Representatives.

  • The Northeast Area Command is a large diversified district. It includes residential, business, and industrial areas. A coalition of neighborhood associations, businesses, and law enforcement representatives has implemented a “Weed and Seed” program, and are working together to "weed out" crime and "seed in" positive growth. This program is directed toward established neighborhoods, empowering them to remove criminal activity and return the area to a safe place to live.

  • The Central West Area Command is representative of the larger Austin area. Its population varies depending on many factors, such as whether the many local colleges are in term, whether the legislature is in session, whether special events are occurring, or residents are commuting to and from the business or public sector districts downtown. Central West is home for the seats of local, county, and state government. It is the base of the largest collegiate campus of the University of Texas system. It also has the 6th Street entertainment area. Due to the compact and varied nature of the people and activities in this area, the primary mission of this law enforcement agency is to ensure the safe movement of traffic and to act as the safeguard of all of its inhabitants and visitors. The Central West area is unique from other area commands in that it has the only mounted unit and walking beat unit within the city. (During the course of the project, the Downtown-Central Business District Command was separated out to cover the downtown business district and the entertainment area.)

  • The Central East Area Command is made up of a rich diversity of residents and cultures. Reportedly, it contains some of the most unique and vital neighborhoods in the City. At the same time, the Central East area contains pockets of poverty with serious crime problems ranging from drugs to gangs to prostitution.
  • The area of Austin within the boundaries of the Southwest Area Command has had problems with traffic due to high growth in the 1990s. In addition, large numbers of residential neighborhoods, apartment complexes and shopping malls all have the kind of law enforcement problems common to these areas, ranging from barking dogs to car burglaries.

  • The region of Austin within the Southeast Area Command had rapid growth and development in the 1990s, partially because the Austin-Bergstrom Airport brought additional services and traffic into the area. The Southeast Area Command contains both residential neighborhoods and light industry and commercial areas. As in any urban area, the Southeast Area Command has its share of property crimes, gang problems and illegal drug activity.

Special Enforcement Teams

Within the Austin Police Department, there are also various special enforcement teams such as: Motor officers, License and Weight officers, Rapid Deployment officers, CISB detectives, Organized Crime/Narcotics officers, and Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs (STEP). STEP officers are focused on specific tasks (e.g., anti-DWI enforcement efforts), and are monitored for performance. Motor officers are decentralized and operate within each area command. There is one STEP officer who coordinates overtime, but all STEP officers are hired on over-time.

Within the current APD is a traffic unit comprised of a lieutenant, twenty officers in a weights and measures unit, ten in a collision investigation unit and eight on a permanent anti-DWI task force, along with other administrative and supervisory staff. The traffic unit has been regularly supported and enhanced by supplemental Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs (STEP).


Historically, general patrol officers were responsible for enforcing traffic laws when not responding to calls for service. During the 1990s, the Austin Police Department developed more specialized enforcement units, such as those mentioned above, resulting in fewer general patrol officers. This, coupled with a shrinking officer to population ratio, meant that fewer general patrol officers were available to handle traffic law enforcement. Fewer available officers, or less time spent by general patrol officers, placed an additional burden on traffic units to operate efficiently in their efforts to provide safe roadways.

In January of 1998, an operations plan was developed3 for a DWI task force. From February through August of that year, APD officers were placed on assignment to work on this task force for specified periods of time. The goal of that task force was to reduce alcohol-related fatalities by 15 percent, compared with the same period in 1997. The Traffic Office Lieutenant was responsible for analyzing data submitted by task force officers to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the program.

A schedule was set up that assigned the numbers of officers needed to staff the task force from the various divisions, but the Division Commanders determined the individual assignments. The anti-DWI task force operated seven days a week from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. Sundays through Fridays, it operated from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., with two teams of two officers on Sun-days through Wednesdays, and four teams of two officers on Thursdays and Fridays. On Saturdays it operated from 8:00 p.m. through 4:00 a.m., with two teams of two officers working along with five officers from the DWI Selective Enforcement Program (STEP). STEP officers were the only officers who were not required to work in pairs. The numbers of officers and times varied slightly throughout the seven-month project.

While all APD officers had received DWI enforcement training at some point at the APD police academy, many officers would not have had recent experience in handling the complicated processing required by this type of arrest. A training videotape was utilized by the Traffic Office to brief all officers assigned to the task force on the proper DWI enforcement procedures. The supervisors of officers requiring additional training notified the Traffic Office for additional training assistance. All DWI task force officers worked in uniform and drove marked police units when they were available. Otherwise, the Traffic Office provided unmarked vehicles equipped with lights and sirens.

DWI task force officers were responsible primarily for enforcing laws related to driving while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol, but also were responsible for enforcing all traffic laws. Officers working the task force processed their own arrests, and were also called upon to process DWI or DUI arrests for patrol officers. DWI task force officers were instructed, when called upon, to relieve patrol officers by the “most expeditious means, either by going to the scene of the arrest, or arranging to meet the patrol officers at the station.”4

Patrol officers were instructed to complete written supplements to the incident report de-tailing the probable cause for the original stop. They were also responsible for completing adequate tests to determine that the suspect was DWI before turning the arrest over to a task force officer. DWI task force officers were responsible for completing all necessary incident reports, affidavits, and booking sheets on the patrol officers’ arrests they had relieved. Additional administrative tasks for DWI task force officers included completing a nightly activity sheet to which they attached a copy of their CAD (computer aided dispatch) sheet. These were sent to the Lieu-tenant in the Traffic Office. The CAD sheets were used to analyze data on time required to process DWI and DUI arrests.

During the evolution and operation of this special DWI enforcement team, general patrol officers, once again, became more familiar with the DWI arrest process that had become more streamlined. Consequently, general patrol officers became more comfortable with making DWI arrests and began handling more of their own cases throughout the process, without relying on specialized DWI enforcement officers.

At the start of this study, DWI suspects were usually brought to APD headquarters to be processed into the jail. Reportedly, suspects were held temporarily at headquarters and then, periodically, were transported in mass by jail personnel to the jail facility. Upon completion of a new jail, law enforcement officers now typically have to transport suspects directly to the jail and wait with those suspects until personnel at the jail complete the processing procedures. Many APD officers believe this has increased the amount of time they spend processing DWI arrests.


The following description briefly outlines the standard procedures followed by all APD officers when handling a typical DWI arrest (although it may be difficult to describe a “typical” arrest, as many DWI arrests are unique and complicated due to the intoxicated state of the driver). After probable cause has been ascertained, the suspect driver is stopped as soon as is safely possible, with the officer calling in the vehicle’s registration number at the time of the stop. Once alcohol impairment has been determined, or is suspected by observing the suspect’s demeanor, walk, speech, odor of alcoholic beverage, and manual dexterity, the officer will ad-minister the SFST (standardized field sobriety test) and HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus) while videotaping the procedures. If, as a result of this investigation, the officer determines the driver is impaired or intoxicated, the arrest will be made at the scene, with the Miranda warning read to the individual immediately after the arrest. The officer will revoke the driving license, and will inform the offender of the right to a hearing on the automatic license revocation. Then, the of-fender will be transported to the jail where a breath test will be given, and the individual will be booked and remanded to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office personnel at the jail. The officer will complete all paperwork and have the reports reviewed by APD arrest review officers, who have offices at the jail. The officer will then report back into service.


A new DWI enforcement unit was created in September of 1998 “to increase enforcement of DWI laws and send a message to motorists who drink and drive” that this behavior is not tolerated in Austin. The unit is under the direction of the Traffic Administration Section. The enforcement team, comprised of eight patrol officers and one sergeant, concentrates its patrol efforts on detecting and apprehending impaired drivers. Each officer assigned to the DWI enforcement unit received training in administering the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. They also became certified Intoxilyzer operators, and several completed a drug recognition course.

The dedicated unit concentrates enforcement efforts on areas where DWI offenses are most likely to occur (e.g., entertainment areas featuring bars and nightclubs) during times when most impaired drivers are on the road (i.e., evenings, weekends and holidays). Typically, the DWI units are dispersed throughout the city, but at times saturation tactics are utilized. In addition to initiating their own alcohol-related arrests, members of the Enforcement Team are able to provide support to regular patrol officers during peak offense times, relieving patrol officers by handling the lengthy processing of DWI arrests.

If asked to assist in a supporting role, the special officer may supervise the process, or may advise at certain points, such as validating the HGN results. Or, if asked, the special officer may completely take over the arrest, which allows the general patrol officer to return to service quickly. In this case, the initiating officer would then be responsible for writing a supplement to the DWI unit officer’s report. The supplement to the main report contains the reasons why the general patrol officer stopped the vehicle, what was observed and that the process was turned over to the DWI unit. If there is not a sober occupant in the vehicle to drive it, the general patrol officer may wait for the police wrecker to tow the vehicle.

Reportedly, general patrol officers process a DWI arrest in approximately three hours, while a DWI special enforcement unit officer usually requires about half that time, roughly 90 minutes. However, data from the APD computer assisted dispatch system (CAD) discussed on page 15 indicates the processing times by the DWI unit officers and general patrol unit officers do not differ greatly.

The entire DWI enforcement unit works every Friday evening. The unit is split with half working Tuesday through Friday evenings, and the remaining working Wednesday through Saturday evenings. The shifts are rotated every four weeks. Reportedly there is a low turnover rate within the unit and several officers have been with the unit for four years. The DWI enforcement unit is not an assigned unit, meaning APD officers must apply for any open positions. The cur-rent sergeant for the unit reports that officers serving on the Unit are passionate about making quality arrests, as well as quantity. DWI arrests are one of the few areas in law enforcement where the arresting officers can follow a case from detection to arrest to adjudication to sanctioning; this is very satisfying work for the officers.

As was discussed earlier, while all APD officers have, at some point, received training on detecting and arresting DWI offenders, many have not actually handled this type of arrest, or at least not recently enough to feel comfortable about properly handling the complicated procedures and paperwork. If this is the case, general patrol officers, upon stopping a suspected impaired driver, may elect to call in a DWI special enforcement unit officer to support or handle the arrest process. Or new officers with less experience, who do want to handle the arrest, may need assistance, because during the time that rookie officers initially spend riding with training officers, they may never encounter a DWI. When they eventually do detect and stop a DWI suspect, enough time may have passed since their academy training that they may wish to have an experienced DWI officer present to offer guidance and assistance.

In fact, in August 2002, a new aspect of the cadet training program5 began in an effort to expose new officers to the actual DWI arrest process. Under this program, each area commander sends one rookie officer per week to the DWI unit for a three-week assignment. The first week, each cadet rides with a DWI unit officer and observes procedures and reviews their skills in ad-ministering the roadside tests. On the second and third weeks of their temporary assignment, they ride alone but work with the DWI unit taking hand-off arrests and making some of their own DWI arrests. Therefore the cadets, while learning proper procedures, strengthen the number of officers serving on the DWI unit. The fourth week they report back to their shift at their as-signed area command. By this time, they are familiar with apprehending and processing their own DWI offenders and with taking hand-offs from fellow officers in their area command. This training program should help to maintain, and perhaps further increase, the number of DWI arrests.


These cooperative efforts have resulted in an increased number of DWI and DUI arrests (see Chapter 3). First, the DWI enforcement team increases the number of patrol units on the streets, making apprehension of DWI offenders more likely. At the same time, regular patrol officers who make DWI arrests are able to turn suspects over to the DWI enforcement team for processing through the system, allowing them to resume patrol duties and apprehend other DWI offenders6. However, as noted earlier, general patrol officers have become more comfortable with making DWI arrests and handling the process themselves. In fact, by 1999, it was reported that general patrol handled three-quarters of the Department’s DWI arrests.

Court and ALR Hearing Appearances

Initially officers spent an inordinate amount of time waiting outside courtrooms which, although guaranteed them overtime pay since court and ALR hearings are always held during the day, also meant too many long hours. It was not unusual for an officer to work, for example, until 6 a.m. due to overtime connected with a late-shift DWI arrest, and then have to report for court during the day, and then back that evening for his or her regular shift. Court liaison officers have now eliminated unnecessary waiting on the part of the DWI enforcement unit officers. They track each case and only call in an officer when it is certain that the officer will need to testify. Officers may participate in ALR hearings by telephone, rather than needing to be physically present at the hearing site.

As is problematic for other law enforcement agencies, APD DWI enforcement unit officers complain that attorneys attempt to use probable cause hearings for discovery purposes. But these officers are well versed in handling court and ALR hearing appearances.

2City of Austin, Texas Police Department website, DWI Enforcement Team, www.ci.austin.tx.us/police/dwi

3The following information was taken from a January 1998 APD memorandum outlining the DWI Task Force Operations Plan.

4From a March, 1998 APD memorandum to DWI task force officers outlining DWI Task Force Duties.

5An ongoing cadet training program assigns academy graduates to six of the seven area commands (the downtown area command does not receive cadets due, in part, to the large 6th Street entertainment district where only experienced officers are assigned) to learn proper procedures and to gain experience while under the supervision of a training officer.

6APD website (www.cityofaustin.org/police).