AUSTIN, Texas — Violent crimes are becoming more common within the City of Austin, and the new interim police chief, Joseph Chacon, has said he's going to work on a new initiative to tackle the issue.
Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Monday morning to talk about the increase in crime and other big topics in the city. Here's a full recap of what he had to say.
Jason Mikell: Chief Chacon said last week he'd be revealing a plan to decrease violent crime in the city soon. Have you spoken to Interim Chief Chacon about this plan, and what would you like to see included in it?
Adler: I haven't seen the plan yet. Looking forward to seeing it like everyone else. This is an issue that is right now presented in cities across the country. I was just on a call two days ago with mayors all over. Everyone's seeing an alarming increase in the rise of guns, of homicides. We're trying to figure out what that is, whether it's related to COVID, people being home. But there are a lot of cities all working on the same issue together, and we're going to look and see what everybody's doing and what works so we know the best practices.
Mikell: And he also announced a plan to roll out an initiative before an officer was shot while responding to some gunshots that were fired. He went to the hospital and has since been released. What do you say to other officers that are putting their lives on the line and also some people that are frustrated that you did not comment on the shooting for a couple of days?
Adler: Well, I think that that's really important for our officers to know that their sacrifices and putting themselves at risk for the community is something that we're incredibly appreciative of. There's a real important place for policing in our city as part of public safety, and the men and women on our force that take those risks, do it for us. And we have to make sure that those folks get our thanks and our appreciation. I am especially appreciative of the two officers that faced fire at the end of last week and especially thankful that the one officer who was shot was released and is recovering.
Mikell: The City could release a comprehensive strategy to tackle homelessness as early as Monday, April 12. We also spoke about some of the fires that have been sparked at some homeless camps. When can we expect to see this strategy and what will be included in it?
Adler: My expectation is that the summit will be giving kind of an implementation plan for the community to consider, hopefully, by the end of the week. This is the very first time that I have ever seen when we have an alignment between all the parties, the business groups like the chamber, the Downtown Austin Alliance, the service providers, the advocates like the Austin Justice Coalition and Homes Not Handcuffs. We've never had that alignment before. At the same time, when we actually have access, if we want to be serious about this, to the resources that are necessary to actually meet this challenge with the federal money that's coming in from COVID, where do unique opportunity and we have to do something? Imagine if those fires that we just saw, one out at the governor's Camp Esperanza and one here downtown, had happened in the woods and some of the areas in West Austin where wildfires are an incredible risk? We could have lost people. It could have been disastrous. We have to get people off the street. We don't want people camping or tenting anywhere. The answer to that is not to hide them, but to actually get them off the street. I'm hopeful that the plan presented this week gives us a road map, a time frame, benchmarks along the way to hold ourselves accountable. But if there's something for the community to consider going forward, we have to do something.
Mikell: We do have early voting coming up in May. One of the propositions on the ballot is Proposition B. How could this complicate the new comprehensive strategy?
Adler: Well, the strategy that we employ and the actions we take are the same. Regardless of what happens in that vote or what the legislature does, we have to get people out of tents, off our streets and into housing, and with services. That's the only way to be able to sustain people off our streets so that they just don't come back. So the actions we need to take are exactly the same, regardless. And we have to be serious about it. We have to do it at scale. We have to do it in a way that ultimately meets this challenge. We know what works. We did it with veterans. We've done it with many and most of the children experiencing homelessness on our streets. We just have to show the resolve, put the resources against it and maintain the alignment.
Mikell: The City has bought up several hotels to help house people experiencing homelessness. Will there be any legal liabilities if there's a rise in crimes of violence? Is the City going to be held liable if some of these take place at some of these hotels that the City is buying?
Adler: You know, what we find in the city is if we get people off the streets and out of tents and actually get them into housing, crime goes down. The incidences of people getting arrested go down. The people showing up in our jails and our emergency rooms actually go down. And that's why you have a strategy that gets people off the streets. We just don't have that kind of experience with any of the places where this is happening. And in our city, we have people that were formerly experiencing homelessness in hotels and apartment buildings all across the city. And it works in ways that make the community safer. And I expect that to happen here as well.
Mikell: One of those hotels that the council recently purchased is within Austin city limits but, technically, it's in Williamson County. Of course, you've seen that that has frustrated some of those county leaders. And just last week, Williamston County judge said this: "If you want to have a conversation, give us a call and we'll have that conversation, but do not be the neighborhood bully." They aim to take legal action. What do you have to say to that?
Adler: Homelessness is an incredible challenge and we have to get people off the streets and into apartment complexes somewhere, and we need to do it all over our city. And that includes all the counties that the city is in, or both the counties that the city is in, both Williamson and Travis counties. But it's something that before we commit or go hard on, anything has to be available for public debate and discussion, just as this is right now. And Williamson County officials are encouraged and we're appreciative if they'll join in the discussion as we make these decisions. We still haven't closed on that property yet. I think there are a lot of reasons that it should go forward. But it is right now in the public domain for discussion. That's how democracies work.
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