After one year on the job, 15th District Commander Alfonza Wysinger feels pretty good about Austin.
This past Saturday marked Wysinger’s first year as commander of the 15th District, which covers most of Austin. It hasn’t been easy serving as the highest law enforcement officer in the city’s most highly populated community.
Drugs, violence and pockets of poverty remain the major challenges. But Austin, Wysinger said, is on the upswing. The community, as well as the city, has seen a record drop in overall crime numbers so far this year. But there are always new battles, such as the Heroin/Fentanyl crisis that hit Austin hard recently.
Nevertheless, Wysinger, an Austin native himself, thinks the neighborhood is improving. The community, he said, has been a big part of the solution.
“Once again the community did open its arms and embrace me,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to show them that I’m a man of my word. If a say something’s going to get done, it’s going to get done.”
Wysinger, 44 and the father of a young daughter, also celebrates 20 years with the force this year. He was previously a narcotics officer and lieutenant with the Narcotics and Gang Intelligence Section. He also served in a number of positions in the Englewood, Fillmore and South Chicago police districts before coming back to Austin.
As a kid, Austin looked much different than it does now, Wysinger said.
“The community looks much, much better,” he said. “We’ve got a $6 million strip mall going up just east of here. They’re putting up, I believe, a Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins at the old KFC at Laramie and Chicago. So, when you start seeing stuff like that and these large corporations coming into the community, it shows just how far we’ve come.”
Wysinger said the community’s support might have something to do with his Austin roots, but he said his main goal is not living up to his past, but living up to his word.
“What I’ve done, as I stated I would do when I first got here, is that I just opened up my door,” he said. “I can’t honestly recollect anybody that I just didn’t have time for. I try to make time for them, even if it’s just a couple of minutes.”
Along with overseeing his officers, and a spanking new 15th District police station at 5701 W. Madison, Wysinger also makes time for community and town hall meetings with Austin lawmakers, residents and clergy. He’s in contact with the Austin Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders, he said, and regularly meets with the top brass of the department. And residents will sometimes see him at various functions, groundbreakings, community events or 15th District-sponsored activities.
One such activity is Hip Hop Tuesdays, an event geared to Austin youth, featuring singers, rappers and poets. The event, which kicked off last month, runs every Tuesday until Aug. 1.
It’s a full plate for Wysinger, and there’s really no typical day for him. He usually starts his day around 9 or 10 in the morning and goes until “whatever is done,” he said.
“I’m used to the long hours, but, of course, these hours are a lot longer,” he confessed. “But it’s a labor of love. You can see the fruits of your labor at the end of the day. This being the end of my first year, and seeing where we are now and where we were when I first got here, it’s just phenomenal. It’s all coming to fruition, and I can only see us getting bigger and stronger.”
Wysinger points to the improved relationship between the officers and the community as instrumental to Austin’s success. That relationship in years past was “strained” to say the least, and there was in Austin, as in other parts of the city, areas for further improvement, Wysinger and others in the Chicago Police Department have admitted.
But hearing that the community likes what he and his officers are doing gives a boost to morale.
“Sometimes, law enforcement and policemen are like little kids. Everybody wants to know every once in a while that what they do out there is appreciated. That’s why I try to let them know. Just about every letter I get and feedback I get from the community, I make sure that message gets back to them,” he said. “That information I can go back and relate to the officers to let them know that the community does care about you, they see what you do, they know how hard you work, and they appreciate it.”