Austin City Council addresses public safety, police oversight and homeless crisis

Public safety was top of mind in Austin during this week's city council meetings. From police oversight to staffing, to the homeless crisis, agenda items were focused on creating solutions to problems affecting the city.

District 6 council member Mackenzie Kelly joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.


Rebecca Thomas: Back in May, voters passed Prop A, which gives more authority to the city's oversight office. Yesterday, council passed a resolution for the city manager to look into some Office of Police Oversight policies. What will that accomplish?

Mackenzie Kelly: Well, ultimately, the goal of this resolution was to create more oversight over the police department in the city of Austin. Personally, I have strong concerns. And the reason I voted no against this item is because it's my firm belief that Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code is preemptive towards these sorts of measures in the absence of a police contract. And as many of your viewers know, our police department doesn't currently have a contract for their officers and therefore, I don't believe that we're able to do these things under state law. So really, we're just going to have to see how all this plays out. Yesterday, the council was given information from the actual attorney general's office of the state of Texas with an opinion that we need to explore further before we continue to make these types of changes at the city. And I believe that no matter what we do moving forward or not, to have more oversight, we're still potentially putting the city at risk of losing additional officers at the department. And that is not something I want to have happen.

Rebecca Thomas: So let's talk about staffing, because it is one of the greatest challenges facing the Austin Police Department right now. The city is hoping to ease some of the strain with a new reserve force. What kind of responsibilities will they have? How will they help?

Mackenzie Kelly: Well, that's a great question. So there's been a lot of talk about the reserve force in our community and what those officers are going to do. So we did approve the appointments of the reserve force at yesterday's council meeting, and they will be working special events. And those special events are unique to Austin. We have ACL, we have South by Southwest, to name a couple. The officers will be working barricades and ensuring the safety of those events, much like the regular officers would be doing. However, they're just appointed to work those special events and do not do any additional police officer duties. These are all officers who left the department in good standing and actually recently came back and completed a miniature-type academy to get caught back up on their certifications and what the new rules and regulations of the department and what their responsibilities are going to be. I'm very excited about this reserve force because it doesn't add any additional burden to our budget. The reserve force will be paid for by the special event promoters for that purpose.


Rebecca Thomas: A final question. We're moving on to the homeless crisis now. The marshaling yard opened its doors in August. It's already full. What is the city doing to increase capacity? How are things going there?

Mackenzie Kelly: So I understand there was a meeting on Wednesday. I was not there. It was a public health committee meeting. But from what I was told, we were told as a city that there are 200 individuals who are experiencing homelessness currently at that marshaling yard. Now we have a capacity of up to 300 people available to be there. So the city is currently working with the contractor endeavors in order to increase and expand that capacity. We do know, at least I do, from having a public meeting, that the police department, along with Austin Resource Recovery and Austin Public Health, currently have a brand-new task force, and they are going out into the community and finding those high risk areas where people are experiencing homelessness to try and get them up off the streets and into that marshaling yard. And I'm excited to tell the community today that I will be visiting the marshaling yard in the next couple of weeks to go see how those operations are going and to bring back any ideas to the council that might increase that capacity or just make it a better overall experience.

Rebecca Thomas: All right. We are out of time, but District 6 council member Mackenzie Kelly, thank you so much for sharing your time and your perspective with us tonight.

Mackenzie Kelly: Thank you for having me.