AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Friday afternoon, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley fielded questions from reporters. He discussed changes to ordinances pertaining to the homeless, and how they may impact his department, and the city. Three ordinances were changed during a city council meeting that took place Thursday evening through Friday morning.
Police will no longer be able to ticket or arrest someone for camping, sitting or lying down in a public space or soliciting -- unless their behavior is dangerous. The camping and sit and lie ordinance both have added requirements that a person's conduct must be "dangerous or hazardous," for it to be considered illegal.
"This will fundamentally change some options police officers have available to them if we receive a call... involving an individual that may be sitting and lying in public space." Manley explained.
Officers must be able to prove in court that a persons conduct was hazardous or dangerous. The "mere act of say sitting and lying in front of say a restaurant or a business whether it be in the downtown area or elsewhere, no longer is that the violation."
Unless a tent, or structure is placed on private property, or city parkland, Manley says the same applies. "Whether that be congress avenue, the drag, the entertainment district, the possibility exists that individuals may be able to construct tents now and if they're not posing a hazard or a danger -- and they're not blocking those wide sidewalks we will not have the ability to enforce under those ordinances as written now."
As for aggressive solicitation -- the "solicitation" part has removed.
The ordinance now only encompasses aggressive conduct. "We always wanna get calls from the community if they believe their safety is in jeopardy, and we just need the community to understand we will still respond however we may not have the same opportunities available to us if we cannot establish that that conduct would meet the threshold of hazardous or dangerous in a court."
Manley says the department pulled data from the downtown Austin community court and the municipal courts. In 2018 there were just over 1,400 violations issued for all three of the citations.
That averages out to approximately 3.8 a day.
The changes are set to go into effect in ten days.