AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin police chief and city staff sent a memo to Austin City Council updating them on the viability and implementation of elements of the Safer 6th Street initiative Wednesday.

That initiative was brought forward by Councilmember Kathie Tovo in response to violent and dangerous incidents that have occurred in the popular downtown nightlife area, including a mass shooting last year where one person died and 14 others were injured.

“That particular place gathers a lot of people, has a lot of the ingredients that can lead to disruption so we need to be doing everything we can,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.

This is one of a few updates staff have sent back to the city council on the Safer 6th Street initiative. The most current updates were broken down as follows:

  • Request: Craft a pilot that creates more seating, dining and other safe activities during 6th Street closures — which happen on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night — and implement the program by May 1.
  • Response: Despite the deadline, the program is still being finalized, but city staff already have an application process developed, according to that memo.
  • Request: Provide updates on creating a dedicated emergency medical services presence and staging area on Sixth Street that will help EMS effectively get people medical help.
  • Response: The memo says a staging area has been created and that ATCEMS is also working on getting new equipment to help them care for patients quickly.
  • Request: Provide information about a city-sponsored gun buyback program and whether or not that would be effective.
  • Response: The Austin Police Department reported in the memo that it has held gun buyback programs before and that they did not show significant changes in gun-related crimes. The PD did not recommend those programs.
  • Request: Look into the possibility of installing more “high activity location observation,” or HALO, cameras in the area.
  • Response: The memo said there are already 47 cameras as a part of the HALO system downtown and that they identified 13 places where additional cameras would be useful. They are also looking to update the current HALO system. They put forward two options in the memo, one that’s just under $900,000 and one that’s more than $190,000.

All of the items listed above were supposed to have been brought back before the council in an update by May 1, but the memo with updates was not published until May 18.

  • Request: City council asked for legal options about punishing establishments where violent incidents keep taking place.
  • Response: The memo says the law department provided this information to the city council during an executive session in April. That would have happened behind closed doors.

After reading through the memo, the owner of the Iron Cactus on 6th Street told KXAN he doesn’t think many of the items are “going to do us much good.”

Gary Manley has been a business owner in the area for roughly three decades. He said he wouldn’t ever consider putting seating out on the sidewalks or the street area. He also doesn’t think the gun buyback program would do much good for 6th Street directly.

“What they need to do, what the city needs to do, is open up Sixth Street,” he said. “They need to get rid of the street partying that takes place between midnight and 2 a.m. every single weekend.”

Manley thinks the most effective element of the memo is that there is more EMS staging.

“There’s certainly a couple areas that I need to follow up on, there was some information provided but I still have questions about it,” Tovo said. “But I’m glad that work is progressing. I see some good next steps.”

You can read the entirety of the Safer 6th Street Initiative on the city’s website.