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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT. Tents are set up outside Austin City Hall as part of a demonstration against Proposition B, which reinstated rules related to homelessness.

Austin won’t make arrests during first phase of reinstating rules related to homelessness

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 by Andrew Weber, KUT

After voters passed Proposition B on May 1, Austin is reinstating rules that ban homeless encampments on public land, prohibit sitting or lying down in parts of the city, and place a nighttime curfew on panhandling.

While those rules go into effect Tuesday, the city said enforcement would be phased in.

In an announcement Monday, the city said police won’t ticket or make arrests during an initial 30-day period unless there’s an immediate threat to public health or safety. Officers will instead “provide available resources and verbal warnings.”

Police will “begin to issue written warnings and initial citations” in the second phase of enforcement, the announcement said.

In the third and fourth phases, officers can “initiate arrests and/or encampment clearances in situations where compliance has not been achieved after a citation has been issued.”

Prop B won by a 15-point margin. Supporters argued the city’s 2019 decision to soften criminal penalties related to homelessness made the city less safe and contributed to an increase in public encampments. Opponents argued criminal penalties for behavior related to homelessness often make things harder for people to get housing.

The outline of the plan comes after days of confusion surrounding the strategy. City Manager Spencer Cronk and interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon will provide an update at a news conference Tuesday.

Last week, Cronk floated the idea of a “phased approach,” suggesting APD wouldn’t immediately start issuing tickets to people who violated the ordinances.

“It is important for all of our residents to know that, even with multiple departments partnering on their implementation efforts, this is not going to happen on May 11,” he said. “This is going to be a process that is over time.”

Cronk’s comments came shortly before Council’s approval of a plan to find city-owned land for temporary campsites as part of the HEAL initiative. That effort, which preceded Prop B, aims to prohibit camping in some areas of Austin after connecting people with housing.

Because of those ongoing efforts, Cronk said, the city will focus on “significant outreach and education” as it relates to enforcing the ordinances.

At an event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Monday, Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said she believes a draft of the enforcement plan will be available Tuesday, adding that she thought it was “coming out too late.”

“I voiced my concern about why didn’t we have a plan in place. We knew this was going to happen,” she said. “Everything is too late and it’s too little here at the city of Austin. It’s not great.”

Back in 2019, the Austin Police Department prepared training bulletins for officers on how to best enforce the then-new rules. KUT asked the department if it had issued similar guidance in relation to Prop B, but has not yet received a response.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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