I learned something interesting this week. The anti-panhandling ordinance is only enforceable if the ‘victim’ or another witness requests that the ‘offender’ be cited. Otherwise, the police are not obliged to intervene. I’ve come to a conclusion regarding the perceived safety of downtown Austin: panhandling is a red herring issue.
The real issue is the ARCH doesn’t have the capacity to service the thousands of homeless people in Austin. They try, but can’t, and those under served are relegated to the streets of the Entertainment District. These people are easy prey for drug dealers. Over the past six months I’ve seen a surge in drug dealers and gangs staking their turf. Ask any resident that has a view of East 5th street if they’ve recently seen some hooded guy loitering in the middle of a sidewalk for hours on end. What are they doing?
The convention center, hotels, retailers, and residents are becoming more vigilant and zero tolerance on Downtown Austin crime is becoming the battle cry. Downtown stakeholders seem to have reached an unofficial consensus that the police must begin to: 1) shift to a beat system of patrol 2) spread out on weekend nights 3) be more effectual in responding to 911. As a participant in many of the Downtown Austin stakeholder groups, I tell you that the Police force is given plenty of slack. Judging by the frustrated voices at recent meetings, I don’t know how much longer that will continue.