Back in August, we talked to Stephen Sternschein, owner of empire control room. He said he used to see a large population of transients near his business--that included drug dealers. His venue sits near the arch...which would be heavily populated.
“Literally the entire block was just full of people. It seemed like they were having a block party or something,” owner of Empire Control Room.
Now. He has a different story.
“There's definitely a lot less activity around and in front of the ARCH,” said Sternschein.
The city kicked off a 30-day pilot program which has a week left. It's a collaboration between the ARCH, Caritas of Austin, the Salvation Army and police.
“What sets this one apart from a lot of the other ones is, instead of just going in, purchasing drugs, putting people in jail to start a cycle, we've partnered with some of our stakeholders who provide services,” said Troy Officer, commander with the Austin Police Department.
Before the pilot program started, APD got a head start in getting drugs off the streets. Between June 20 and July 20, they went undercover, posing as customers, buying cocaine, crack, and heroin
“We started the roundups after securing warrants on 81 different individuals, and at this point we've been able to arrest 26 people,” said Officer.
Police say their goal is to target the predators, not simply "the homeless."
“We have a lot of our residents and people who come to us for meals, who have expressed to us how fearful it is to them on the streets,” said Major Andrew Kelly, with the Salvation Army.
“A lot of our drug dealers, they have residences. They're not homeless people, they don't use the resources downtown, they are simply predators,” said Officer.
Not all problems the arch deals with will be solved overnight, but for Stephen and many who enjoy Austin's vibrant downtown, it' s a step.
“It's the first tangible thing that's happened to address the issue and it has had an impact,” said Sternschein.
People who have been issued warrants also have "stay away orders" meaning they cannot come within 200 yards and for some, 500 yards of the ARCH.
In June 2017 the Austin Police Department set out on an operation to identify drug dealers selling to the homeless population around the ARCH in downtown Austin. Overall, 81 drug dealers were identified.
APD says the Street Narcotics unit focused their attention on those selling narcotics and not those using them during the sting. The operation focused on crack-cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, police say.
Officers went undercover between June 20 to July 20 to purchase from and identify drug dealers. The Street Narcotics team discovered 81 suspects, one of which is a 16-year-old juvenile. As of Thursday, Sept. 7, 26 of the suspects had been arrested.
"Between all 81 suspects, there are 16 convictions for weapons, 19 convictions for Robbery, 4 convictions for Rape, 110 convictions for selling drugs, 148 convictions for possessing drugs, 17 convictions for auto theft, 73 convictions for Theft, 22 convictions for Burglary of Residence/Buildings, 6 Sex Offenders and 99 convictions for Assaults of varying degrees," a statement from the police department said.
Austin police say between various operations, they have identified a common behavior among many of the drug dealers was to come from outside of downtown Austin to take advantage of the homeless and sell drugs.