AUSTIN (KXAN) — In efforts to deter things like illegal drug activity and unruly behavior near Sixth and Brazos Street downtown, a group of businesses – including Stream Realty, the Littlefield Building and The Driskill – have hired private security guards to patrol the sidewalks, according to Stream’s attorney Richard Suttle.
“The best news I’ve heard in four years,” Jesse Fortney, owner of Gnar Bar, said. Gnar Bar is near the intersection where security guards are patrolling.
The businesses hired the guards from Next Level Security. The guards patrol the intersection of Sixth and Brazos from the corner to the alleys.
KXAN spoke with one of the guards off camera, who said their primary goal is to break up large groups of people experiencing homelessness who gather on the street.
The Austin Police Department said it has been made of “several areas where quality-of-life crimes are occurring,” and such discussions have led the department to implement more high-visibility operations in impacted areas.
When responding to such situations, which primarily involve people experiencing homelessness, police said officers connect individuals with available services.
“Some building managers and owners have expressed needing constant security in these areas,” the department said in a statement. “APD cannot commit these resources to certain areas 24 hours a day/seven days a week, and is aware that some business owners and managers are opting to hire private security to ensure their businesses are protected.”
Suttle said the private security has already made an impact. The guard KXAN spoke with said they have the capacity to ask people to move, but have to tap APD or DPS if situations escalate.
“We’ve done quite a bit to advocate for a safer situation here on Brazos Street,” Ben Marullo, who lives near Sixth and Brazos, said. “The city was not effective in keeping our community safe.”
He welcomes the security presence, but said he’s disappointed private money had to fund it.
Fortney echoed that sentiment.
“It’s sad that private money has to do it,” he said.
Fortney said he and his customers already feel safer outside his bar.
“A small chance of hope for business owners and people walking around,” he said.
Council Member Zo Qadri, whose district includes downtown, said public safety is “very important” to his office.
“Talked to many businesses and residents that have reached out to our office, sat in on a lot of meetings with business owners,” he said. “It’s not anything that we take lightly.”
Qadri addressed APD’s years-long staffing shortage, and said he believes the quickest fix to downtown safety is securing another long-term police contract with the Austin Police Association.
When KXAN asked Qadri his thoughts on businesses resorting to using their own money to hire private security, he said “I think the concerns they have are valid.”
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Qadri said.
Suttle said if the private security program continues to prove successful, it may expand.