Austin Police Association says ARCH should be moved from downtown

It's a familiar sight: police lights at the ARCH.

Austin Police documents say on Monday afternoon, 27-year-old Westly Barnes told a man to get away from his girlfriend.  Then he pulled a gun out and shot that man three times.

Police chased Barnes and arrested him after finding him under a car nearby. The victim was taken to the hospital.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says between the K-2 calls, the cocaine calls and the gunplay in that area, a lot of APD resources are spent there.

Casaday says it's time for the ARCH to be moved away from downtown.
 
"Those people deserve better.  We've put them in a position where they're surrounded by liquor stores, crack dealers, the 6th Street entertainment district that...is not good for people in that condition," Casaday said.
 
Bob Woody who has owned bars and restaurants downtown for the past 32 years also wants to see it moved. 
 
"We did not have the aggression we have with the panhandling and the violence," he said.
 
According to APD, the number of crimes committed by homeless people in Austin each year are in the thousands.
 
But they actually appear to be on the decline.
  •     2013: 7,989
  •     2014: 7,941
  •     2015: 6,391 (as of early November)
 
Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo believes many of the homeless in the area are victim to crime instead of causing it.  She says the ARCH should stay.
 
"Moving the homeless shelter, moving the ARCH from our downtown is not going to be the solution to housing, it's not going to be the solution to crime in our downtown.  These are complicated problems and they require careful analysis," Tovo said.
 
Woody says wherever the ARCH is moved to, it should have more of a campus format.
 
"It needs to accept the homeless, it needs to accept the service providers.  If you deny the service providers the ability to go there, then these homeless are going to continue to come back for these services," Woody said.
 
"It needs to be a place that maybe we could fence in and keep the bad people out and keep the people that really need the help in," Casaday said.
 
The first phone call I made on this story today was to Front Steps.  They operate the ARCH.  I asked Executive Director Mitchell Gibbs if he could do a quick interview on how they screen their clients for guns and keep the place safe from crime in general.  His response?  Not interested.  And he was keen to end our conversation.  The Austin Police Association President says Front Steps doesn't cooperate with police either.
 
"It's been a constant problem for our department, our missing persons unit, our sex crimes unit.  Trying to get them to cooperate with our investigations.  And if we're going to spend our tax dollars and our time down there trying to make the ARCH a safer place, then they need to cooperate," Casaday said.
 
Salvation Army was more helpful on this story than Front Steps.  They issued this statement:
"The Salvation Army serves a vital need for the most vulnerable populations in our community. The safety of our clients and staff is of the highest priority in and around all Salvation Army facilities.
 
Along with all of our downtown neighbors, we continue to have grave concerns about criminal activity in the area. Our clients come to us in times of deep distress and the concern of becoming a victim of crime adds to their trauma.
 
We are working closely with other service providers, the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department to try to improve the situation.
 
Locally thousands of people receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through the broadest array of social services. These range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, rehabilitation for the addicted, clothing and shelter to those experiencing homelessness and case management to help people move from crisis to self-sufficiency." - Jan Gunter, Salvation Army
 
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