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Friday, January 10, 2020 by Andrew Weber, KUT
Citing violence associated with homeless, Abbott asks DPS to patrol state-owned buildings in Austin
Gov. Greg Abbott has directed state troopers to increase patrols within two blocks of state buildings in Central Austin in the wake of two stabbings involving homeless Austinites since Friday.
In a letter Thursday, Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase patrols around the University of Texas, the Texas State Capitol and other state-owned buildings starting Monday, citing violence associated with homeless people in Austin.
DPS “is not charged with the duty to police the streets of Austin – that is the City of Austin’s responsibility. However, the State of Texas must do all it can to protect the safety of all its residents and visitors,” Abbott wrote in a letter to DPS Director Steven McCraw. “That duty falls even more heavily on DPS when it comes to employees and visitors at all State of Texas facilities – including UT.”
In an email to KUT, DPS said it “would not discuss specifics related to security measures, but residents can expect to see additional Troopers in the area no later than Monday.”
The move is the latest salvo in Abbott’s series of claims that the city’s policies regulating behavior related to homelessness jeopardize public health and safety. In October, he threatened state intervention if City Council didn’t change laws it passed in June that effectively decriminalized homelessness.
While the city reinstated some bans on camping and resting in public, Abbott continued to criticize Austin’s rules largely over social media – which Austin Mayor Steve Adler decried last week.
In a statement to KUT, Adler suggested the governor take a different tack in addressing homelessness in Austin and across the state by providing more funding to cities and service providers. As an example, Adler pointed to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request to state lawmakers to provide $1.4 billion in state money to address homelessness.
“Austin remains one of the safest big cities in the country,” Adler said. “The governor could really help Austin and other Texas cities by helping provide mental health clinics, substance abuse treatment and housing.”
Abbott threatened to bolster patrols around state buildings in his initial October letter, but ultimately didn’t, opting to direct DPS to clean up underpasses where homeless people frequently set up encampments.
Now, the governor is following through on the threat of patrols, citing two cases of violence involving homeless people and doubling down on his criticism of Austin’s policies.
On Friday, a homeless man fatally stabbed one person and injured three others before jumping off a building at Riverside Drive and South Congress Avenue. The suspect died of his injuries. On Wednesday, one person was transported to the hospital with critical injuries after an altercation. The Austin Police Department suggested to KXAN that both parties in that case were homeless people.
In both cases, Abbott tweeted that the incidents involved homeless people – and placed political blame on City Council – before police had confirmed anyone involved was homeless.
In his letter, Abbott also cited an arson at a 7-Eleven near UT and an attack on the Ann Richards Congress Bridge last year.
Read the governor’s letter below.
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.
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