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Downtown Commission finds proposed police memorials a tough issue

Thursday, September 23, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Downtown Commission was somewhat less than enamored last week with new proposed police memorials that could be placed at key intersections downtown along Congress Avenue.


The memorials to signify officers’ deaths in the line of duty, as Officer Jason Huskins presented them to the commission, are not insubstantial. In at least two cases downtown, they’re large, they’re granite, and they are at least five-feet tall. Plaques will be used at locations along Sixth Street.


Large granite markers, with the full story of the officer, may look great along Interstate 35, but inside the downtown district, it might be a bigger challenge. Commissioners wanted to know what the Downtown Austin Alliance thought of the markers, which did look substantial in Huskins’ slide show. Huskins has worked on the police memorial project for at least four years. One commissioner asked whether the DAA was happy with the memorials.


“They’re aware of it, yes,” Huskins’ replied.


The two cases where granite markers are involved are in the 800 and 300 blocks of Congress. Plaques were proposed along Sixth Street. Huskins noted lawmakers, both at the state and local level, had supported the placement of markers for downed officers in Austin.


Huskins insisted he heard no negative feedback. The only issue was markers that had some type of reference to religious messages.


Asked by one commissioner whether there might be a response to the message, possibly a negative one from downtown tourists, Huskins was earnest.


“Yes, that’s the purpose of these memorials,” said Huskins, noting the 17 officers’ deaths range from 1875 to 2004. “To send a message.”


Take, for instance, the past Austin officer death at Eighth Street and Congress. Commissioner Michael McGill asked about orientation and placement. Here would be a major granite slab marker, which Huskins noted would be in the same area as numerous other items, such as planters or even large guitar art objects.


“We don’t want to clutter stuff too much, but at the same time, we don’t to be an impediment,” said Huskins, sounding almost like he didn’t want to be too much trouble trying to fit the memorials into downtown.


Asked why the Austin Police Department might not consider plaques throughout downtown – apart from Sixth Street – Huskins said the sidewalks along Sixth Street were narrower and traffic more hectic along those sidewalks.


Commissioner Stan Haas called it a dilemma, noting the conflict between supporting law enforcement and supporting the markers. Honoring officers is good, Haas said, adding that the message to tourists, via a tombstone, might be bad.


“I’m just concerned about the varying messages it sends, to other users of the downtown area,” Haas told Huskins. “From my personal perspective, it’s not one that I would find positive. I’m sorry, it’s a very difficult issue.”


Commissioners were inclined to hear more feedback from merchants along Sixth Street and Congress Avenue before voting on any recommendation.


However, the briefing before the commission was a courtesy. Council has already approved the marker program.

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