AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Abbott directed DPS to begin patrolling within two blocks of any state building in Austin on Thursday.
In a letter sent to the Director of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, Abbott requested the action to begin next Monday, January 13th, and to include the University of Texas campus and the Capitol Complex.
The Governor took this step after two stabbings in the downtown area involved people who police believed to be experiencing homelessness.
“As you are aware, two stabbings have taken place in the downtown Austin area in less than a week. One person has died from those attacks and others remain seriously injured. These crimes add to a growing list of reports of physical assaults and threats, even arson, in areas near the Capitol Complex and The University of Texas at Austin (UT),” wrote Abbott. “The attack on Congress Bridge that left one person hospitalized and four women traumatized and the arson attack at the 7- Eleven near UT’s campus are just two instances where people’s lives have been threatened. “
The first was last week at the Bennu coffee shop and Freebirds restaurant on South Congress. One person was stabbed to death and two more were injured. The suspect, who was homeless, died after jumping from a building.
Then Wednesday, a man in his 30s was found with a stab wound in his chest on East 4th and Trinity Streets. Police said both the victim and suspect in that incident appeared to be homeless.
The President of Safehorns, a non-profit advocating for safety improvements around UT Austin, said the extra DPS patrols are a good step, but they still want more lighting and emergency boxes in the West campus neighborhood across from campus.
“It is a mental health, addiction issue as well besides the crime. So it’s very complex. But at the same time no one is doing anything in our opinion. So we’re grateful the governor is actually taking action,” said Joell McNew, President of Safehorns.
The area at UT and around most of downtown is represented at city hall by Council Member Kathie Tovo. She told KXAN the public safety aspect should be separated from their efforts at city hall to find housing for the homeless. But for this action, she welcomes the increased participation from the state.
“We welcome the state’s participation and increased presence alongside our Austin Police Department officers and we’re going to continue to work in partnership with the UTPD and with all of our other public safety partners to increase the level of safety and security for all of our Austinites,” said Tovo.
The Austin Police Department said they have not been notified of any increased DPS patrols, at last report, but they do have a good working relationship with DPS. When KXAN asked, DPS did not specify where these troopers will be for security reasons.
Councilmember Tovo said she’d like to see Governor Abbott and the State of Texas do more than just law enforcement actions when it comes to homelessness.
“The City of Austin has launched and supported multiple important initiatives related to providing housing and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness from the Pay for Success permanent supportive housing program, to the Homelessness Outreach Street Team, to increased funding for our housing-focused shelters and new housing options,” said Tovo. “I would certainly welcome the state’s increased participation in helping provide more housing and resources for individuals within our community who need them.”