Austin police, 6th Street bars team up to make entertainment district safer

Austin police and 6th Street bar staff are teaming up in an effort to make the entertainment district safer. Staff from 10 or so bars got a crash course in violence prevention on Monday.

"Almost all violence on the streets of Austin is preventable and solvable," said Robert C. Smith, CEO of Nightlife Security Consultants.

The training, the first of its kind in Austin, happened three years to the week since a deadly mass shooting that killed a man and injured more than a dozen others.

That led to the Safer 6th Street Initiative, passed by council in 2022. This training, held at Vulcan Gas Company, is part of that effort.

"So for us, it was very important to partner with the bar owners and say, 'hey, here are some things that you guys can and can't do,'" said Commander Craig Smith of the Austin Police Department, who oversees APD’s Downtown Command District.

"What the police think is allowed, what we think is allowed, we don't always come together on that. So this will be a great way to make sure all of 6th Street only gets safer and safer," said Zachary Ray, owner of The Rustic Tap.

Ultimately, the hope is for bars to be able to help prevent incidents from happening in the first place, before they escalate into potentially deadly violence.

Last July, a gun went off inside 512 Bar after an armed man bypassed security, injuring three people. In December, a man was fatally shot by police after pulling a gun outside Soho Lounge.


"If bartenders, bar backs, door hosts, floor hosts understand how to solve these problems before they happen, then they'll be better at solving the problems," said Robert C. Smith.

The training covered things like screening for guns at the door, avoiding overserving patrons, as well as preventing a bar fight from spilling onto the street.

"If a door host doesn't know they can wrap someone up fighting and then walk them outside, hold them for the police, they won't do that," said Robert C. Smith.

"It’s nice to clear up those gray areas," said Ray. "We definitely will have a little staff meeting after and kind of go over some of those things."

Safety advocates say they’re encouraged.

"This is so important," said Joell McNew, president of SafeHorns. "And this is a fantastic step in the right direction."

"6th Street may not have the best reputation right now, but that's our goal with this initiative, to make sure that everybody feels welcome, everybody feels safe," said Commander Smith.

Austin’s Office of Nightlife and Entertainment is planning more training at bars in the future, from active shooter training to overdose prevention.