AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a Saturday morning mass shooting on East Sixth Street killed one and sent 13 other people to the hospital with injuries, the short-staffing of the Austin Police Department is under the microscope.
When shots rang out just before 1:30 a.m. Saturday, chaos ensued at 400 E. Sixth Street near Trinity Street as partygoers dispersed, and APD officers responded. The quick response of nearby officers — although heavy police presence on Sixth Street is common — sparked debate among Austinites.
During Saturday briefings, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon commended his department for their speedy application of first aid and tourniquets to help victims, in addition to some officers driving victims away in patrol cars.
He said, however, fully-staffing the downtown area is getting harder with a limited number of officers and the size of the crowds returning to the area after the pandemic.
“I have talked about the staffing shortages that we are experiencing at the Austin Police Department — it is making it hard. I’ll just tell you that — it’s making it very hard for us to continue to staff at these levels, even if we offer overtime to our officers,” Chacon said.
To fill in the gaps, at least for this weekend, Chacon requested help from the Texas Department of Public Safety to aid with security downtown Saturday night. But he also wants people to be aware.
“Overall, we remain a safe city. And I think that people should keep that in mind. But also keep in mind when you come downtown, you need to be safety conscious. Travel in groups, if possible. Be vigilant of your environment and your surroundings. And importantly, if you plan to drink, have a plan to get home,” Chacon said.
Sixth Street was still abuzz with people Saturday night.
“It’s not something I feel comfortable with, but every single day in the U.S. is dangerous. So we aren’t going to hide on his birthday,” said Farrah Elbaz, who was visiting Sixth Street Saturday evening. “We’re vaccinated; we are healthy. We’re going to celebrate, but it’s scary, and it’s scary every day here.”
The Austin Police Association said officers had to be brought in from other sectors around the city in order to cover downtown. Additionally, Chacon said overtime officers are used to help cover shifts and staff the entertainment district, but that can be costly.
In April, KXAN investigators reported how APD had already paid out close to $5 million in overtime for this fiscal year. That’s close to 140% of their OT budget — and only six months into the fiscal year.
Just this week, a revamped Austin Police Cadet Academy restarted, but the earliest those cadets will be able to serve is next year. Graduation isn’t until the end of January.
Currently, the Greater Austin Crime Commission reports APD has 140 total vacancies. That’s in addition to the 150 positions cut last year.