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Assistant chief talks APD headquarters

Tuesday, October 6, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

The movement for racial justice combined with the Covid-19 pandemic may be reshaping the future of the Austin Police Department and the use of the department’s headquarters at 715 E. Eighth St.

While the conversation about reimagining the headquarters grew out of City Council’s work to reform the department budget, Chief of Staff Troy Gay told the Public Safety Commission Monday that Covid-19 has also shifted the department’s administrative operations.

“We have a lot of individuals right now at headquarters that have traditionally worked here in the building, but we’re realizing that there are some, such as in our records department and others, that can actually telework and be as efficient,” Gay said. “I do think our needs are going to be a little bit different based on the current environment and some of the things that we’re learning that people can be effective and work at home through teleworking.”

With these changes, Gay said the department may need less real estate than it had previously believed, freeing up new opportunities for other organizations to move into the space or even move police administration out of the current downtown building.

Gay said while moving headquarters out of the downtown core could complicate department operations, co-location with other public service organizations downtown “would be beneficial.” He noted the potential benefits of bringing a mental health provider like Integral Care into the building or finding ways to work in closer proximity with organizations like Front Steps, Caritas or the city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team.

“To me the sky’s the limit – it’s just a matter of getting with the right folks and the stakeholders to decide the benefits, the pros and cons,” he said.

However, Gay also said the downtown area command will need to stay in the downtown core so its 100-plus officers are still able to deploy on foot or bicycle as is common practice. If the downtown police force were to move into a new space, it would need to provide adequate parking for approximately 60-70 officers at any given time.

Considering the possibility of co-location with police at the downtown headquarters, commissioners mentioned a variety of public-safety services that could help serve the communities that have historically been pushed east of Interstate 35. Among the options to explore, commissioners proposed using the space for food access, an extension of the Austin History Center emphasizing the city’s history of segregation, a health clinic, professional training services for children in minority communities, or retail that could help fund these efforts.

“I think the co-location of as many social services in one place that we can have could be quite beneficial,” Commissioner Bill Kelly said. “One of the reasons we have a variety of problems here in Austin is because we lack fundamental public health and access to other public resources. I think having them located in one place, in one centralized location, could be very beneficial.”

Kelly also noted the ongoing struggle to find a larger, more appropriate space for the Downtown Austin Community Court, which is currently located two blocks south of police headquarters and which the city is proposing to move across I-35 into East Austin.

“If we’re talking about having mental health present and other stakeholder services that might benefit individuals that are chronically homeless, it might make sense to co-locate (the Downtown Community Court) there,” Kelly said.

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