AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Mayor Steve Adler said Austin police should be ticketing or arresting anyone causing a public health or safety risk, including the homeless population.
“The council has been insistent that the police department be very vigilant, including arresting and ticketing anybody that's creating a public safety risk or a public health hazard or a disturbance or assaulting people or blocking or impeding,” Adler said.
Austin Police Association president Ken Casaday said that's not the same message they've been hearing since changes were made to the camping ordinance in June.
Austin City Council changed the ordinance because they said they don't want to criminalize homelessness, which is why the mayor's latest statement is causing some confusion.
“What do they want? Do they want these people arrested? What exactly does this council want?” Casaday asked.
The mayor said he wants the badge number of any officer who says police cannot enforce ordinances regarding health and safety that affect the homeless population.
“If there is a police officer out there that is saying that, I would appreciate you getting his badge number and giving it to me or giving it to the chief," Adler said. "Because that is not acceptable conduct on behalf of our law enforcement people. I don't believe it's really happening."
Casaday says it's still very confusing.
“It's still very confusing, because you're hearing, ‘Okay, policy says you can do this. We want to take the least intrusive path,’ but then you have City Council, depending on the day, saying, ‘Oh my God, we don't want these people arrested.’ Then the next day, ‘Oh, these people need to be arrested and if they don't, you need to get that officer's badge number and I'll do something about it,’” Casaday said.
With a more than 400 percent spike in 3-1-1 calls regarding homeless individuals since the ordinances changed, Casaday said officers are feeling the heat for a problem they didn't create.
“Morale right now is horrible because they don't know what they need to do," Casaday said. "Policy says one thing, one day council says one thing, then they say another the next day, so it's very hard to function as a police officer in this city right now."
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley replied to the Mayor’s message in a statement that reads,
Casaday points out people building structures under overpasses are not following city codes either, but code officers are not citing them.
The mayor said council will consider adding restrictions to address that during the September 19 meeting.
“I think one of the things we'll take a look at is limiting the kinds of structures, maybe not allowing permanent structures, maybe allowing people to have tents and tents of a certain size," Adler said.
"I mean those are the kinds of things we can consider and I expect the council and the community to be debating."