Prior to his July 2005 appointment as 25th District police commander, Juan Rivera spent 20 years on the police force in various capacities working all over the city.

Rivera, whose 25th District includes portions of Austin, Hermosa, Avondale, and Galewood, has served as commanding officer of the Confidential Investigation Section of the Internal Affairs Division and Organized Crime Division, among posts.

Following his recent one-year celebration of his position at Trinity Baptist Church,

1210 N. Waller, the commander spoke to the Austin Weekly News about his goals for the district.

AWN: Were you expecting the West side Health Authority to prepare a celebration commemorating your first year as commander?

Rivera: “Actually I wasn’t. I was expecting only to meet with them to discuss some initiatives, and when I arrived, I was really taken aback. My wife and children were there as well. It was a wonderful gathering.

AWN: “Who attended?

Rivera: “WHA President Jackie Reed was there and spoke. Darlynn Garton and R. Yvonne Mesa-Mcgee, also of the WHA, were there as well, and presented me with a framed award. There were also representatives from the offices of Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th Ward) and Emma Mitts (37th Ward), as well. One of my goals when I first started last year was to establish a strong relationship with community groups like WHA. I feel that they are the windows to the conscious of the community.

AWN: Talk about your goals when you were first appointed as commander last year.

Rivera: “In July (of 2005), I became aware of a definite upsurge in violence in the district, which I knew needed to be addressed. In August, I saw that homicides were especially prevalent in certain areas along North Avenue specifically, so I wanted to mobilize a task force encompassing units both within and beyond the district in the narcotics, prostitution [and] homicide divisions to help my district handle the upsurge of activity in those areas of concern. I placed more policing in areas that seemed to be locations of high crime. [I] oversaw the placing of blue lights in corners of the heaviest volume criminal activity. I also wanted to make sure we established a relationship with community groups and area residents as well.”

AWN: How effective has the effort been since it first began last year?

Rivera: “I would say it has been very effective. The 25th District is one of the largest in the state, serving over 255,000 people. As such, when the efforts of the task force have a positive impact on crime in certain areas, its significance is amplified because of the number of people involved. According to the Research and Development Division charting changes in total index of crimes over the course of the year, found that last year, in July, the 25th District was 14th of 25th in terms of crime decrease in the past years. This essentially means that we had the 14th biggest drop in crime in the last year. However, when the statistics were announced this past July, we were 4th of 25th in terms of drop-off of crime. Only three districts had a greater drop of crime in the area. That is an enormous accomplishment by those involved with the task force, and we hope we continue in this positive direction.

AWN: What has been the hardest part of the last year for you?

Rivera: “I would say, having to adjust to the limited amount of time I can spend with my family. I have three children and a wife at home that I see only a few hours a week sometimes. Sometimes, I am working with a task force project or allocating necessary resources to meet the needs of the district, or, meeting with community groups, and I will work deep into the night. My wife has been very understanding of our limited time together, realizing, as I do, that even though my job allows us only a few hours a week together, all the time we spend together is more meaningful.”

AWN: Wednesday Journal was also curious about incidences, also reported in the news, about questionable arresting procedures by police. For example, in June, a woman died at a West Side police jail of apparent natural causes, but was denied a doctor while in custody. What is the protocol in dealing with, say, people with disabilities?

Rivera: “Well, in the 25th District the officers are suppose to determine for themselves if the person has a disability, and if they do, they are told to summon a mental health official to the scene to evaluate the person on the spot. We even have a man who works with the force named Jackie Glass, from Hartgrove Hospital, who comes in and assures that the officers have a good idea of how to evaluate certain disabilities and how to handle them…I don’t know if every police station has someone who teaches officers what to look for in the manner that Mr. Glass does for us, but it really prepares our officers for dealing with these issues so that misunderstandings are avoided.”

AWN: So what are your goals for the next year?

Rivera: “I want to assure we continue to make the community safer for the people of the 25th District, so that they start to see the quality of life continue to improve. I want to develop an even stronger relationship with community organizations, such as the South Austin Coalition, because they are doing great work to improve their communities, and working together, we can begin to really make progress in the area. I also want to develop a stronger relationship with the residents as well, through town hall gatherings and community events. Working together, we can all make a difference.”