APD cracking down panhandlers in parking lots under I-35

The two parking lots under I-35 downtown are actually owned by TXDOT and leased to the City of Austin Transportation Department. You pay to park, there are no parking attendants.

Even though FOX 7 spotted one guy..."attending" to people...while they parked. He probably didn't read the new "No Trespassing" signs.   

"There's stuff all the time.  I mean it's just one of the areas we work with," said Commander David Mahoney with APD.  "That's kind of a corridor everyone walks through to go to Sixth Street so we want people to be able to walk and not have to worry about somebody asking for money or see some sort of activity that might be distasteful."

Mahoney is APD's new downtown area commander. He says the "No Trespassing" signs have been up for several weeks now.  They'll start enforcing them at the end of the month. Right now they're just trying to get the word out.  Mahoney says citizen complaints and crime prompted the signs.

"Panhandling, public intoxication, fighting, drug dealing and then people were charging drivers to park there even though it's already a paid lot," he said.

Earlier this year, FOX 7 rode along with Austin Police during an undercover operation in one of the I-35 lots.  APD watched from an unmarked vehicle while a woman stole money from the back pocket of a man sleeping on the pavement. The sleeping man was an undercover officer. The woman was arrested.

Commander Mahoney says when officers start enforcing the "No Trespassing" rules on October 31, they'll give warning of course but if the person doesn't leave, it's more than just a fine.

"It's a state law.  So it's a Class B Misdemeanor.  So that is punishable by 6 months in jail and a fine," Mahoney said.

As far as the downtown homelessness issue on the whole, Mahoney says the HOST program is continuing.  That's Homelessness Outreach Street Team.  It's a pilot program...officers and health specialists basically go out and talk to the homeless to try and get them help.  Mahoney is hoping to expand the program.